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On Tuesday, 24th of January 2023, I had the opportunity to go to the Australian Open (AO) to see some of the players participating in All Abilities Day matches.
This was a true celebration of diversity and inclusivity at its best, and to ace that, a world first. The AO has always made diversity and inclusivity a priority with their themed days and plenty of activities for kids in the AO Ballpark. This year there was even an opportunity to get immersed in First Nations art via a digital platform. To top that, people with a range of different (dis)abilities such as vision and hearing loss, mobility, sensory and/or intellectual disabilities were invited to showcase their tennis skills.
All Abilities Day marks a special day in the history of sport. If you think that’s a promotion for the Australian Open, you’re right.
‘I’m about five minutes away’, I shouted to Maurice into my phone as I tried to make my way out of the tram at Flinders’ Street Station. Noisy commuters were squashed in like sardines and no one was able to move. The excitement level was high because the Australian Open was on. It was obvious that was where everyone was heading, judging by the amplified conversations going on around me.
‘Move out of the way for the blind lady,’ a man’s voice hollered over the top of the commuters. That got them moving. People disembarked the tram to let me out. I couldn’t have drawn more attention to myself if I tried. My cane finally hit the footpath. Now I just had to make my way through the throng of people to Traveller’s Aid, the meeting point inside the station.
When I arrived, there was such a buzz amongst the group of blind and vision impaired people, support workers, volunteers and staff that had gathered there to go to the tennis together. There were even professional photographers with their big cameras attempting to organise a group photo and making sure everyone was facing the camera rather than the back wall. Not an easy task.
The photographers followed us like paparazzi as we made our way from the station to the tram stop that would take us to the AO. It was great to feel so important even though none of us were going to be swinging a tennis racket - not today anyway. Our fellow athletes who were playing in All Abilities Day matches were already at the AO warming up and no doubt dodging the paparazzi as well.
It was just a short tram trip to the AO. Staff from Traveller’s Aid and volunteers accompanied us all the way. They couldn’t do enough for us. On the tram, amongst the commotion, I heard the familiar sound of Silvana’s voice coming from somewhere.
‘Is Annette here?’
‘Yes Silvana, I’m here’.
Silvana and I have been friends for a few years now, a friendship that has developed through the love of tennis for blind and vision impaired people. Whenever there’s anything on to do with tennis, Silvana and I always join in and stick together. Sometimes that includes checking up on each other’s whereabouts especially in big crowds.
Volunteers from Tennis Australia met us as we approached the main gates. They draped a lanyard with a free day pass ticket attached around each of our necks. While all this was going the photographers were still snapping from various angles. It sure was a lot of photos for a group of spectators.
Finally, it was time to head to the Margaret Court arena and get amongst the action. We were seated in the front rows above the courts and although it was difficult to see who was playing, it was just such an amazing experience to be there.
Thank you to everyone who made it possible including …
Thanks to Tennis Australia, the Australian Open, Traveller’s Aid and Yarra Trams for making this all possible. But the biggest thank you goes Maurice Gleeson, the CEO and President of Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria. For over 30 years, he has been creating wonderful opportunities in a wide range of sports to enable people in the blind and vision impaired community to rightfully participate in the sport of their choice.
Photos courtesy of Michael Janes.