Pickleball is a sport often lauded for its high levels of accessibility. Anyone can participate in the game regardless of age, background, or athletic experience.
We’ve seen people rally around one another to bring a higher level of inclusivity to the game. Whether in the form of dedicated wheelchair pickleball tournaments, as seen at Pickleball England’s English Nationals, or through DUPR and MLP’s recently announced initiatives to make the sport more accessible for college and youth pickleball players, pickleball is at its core inherently about building a community.
An excellent example of this community-focused mindset can be found in the Arizona Deaf Pickleball (ADP), a pickleball club dedicated to bringing hearing and deaf people together on the pickleball court.
The organization was founded by two deaf pro pickleball players, Shawn Benavente and Francisco German, who wanted to connect all players within their pickleball community. ADP was founded in 2021 and now has 400 members dedicated to continuing their club’s growth.
Communication is vital while on the pickleball court. From declaring faults to scoring, there are many aspects of pickleball that need to be clearly understood by all players during a game. In a recent interview with Cronkite News, German explained that their club hopes to teach others how to use American Sign Language (ASL) in order to communicate with deaf players.
“Our mission is to educate hearing and deaf people to play together, teaching players how to score one through 10. We met most of the hearing players through the park and tournaments. They were very eager to learn ASL numbers; we’re very inclusive and we don’t exclude anyone as long as they learn ASL.”Francisco German
One of the world’s leaders in the advocation and empowerment of deaf athletes is the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD). Founded in 1924, the ICSD is the primary governing body for organizing the Deaflympics and World Deaf Championships.
Similar to ADP, the ICSD seeks to build a sense of identity and belonging for hard-of-hearing and deaf athletes. One of the key factors in the integration of disabled athletes is building better awareness within their communities.
People who can hear are often not exposed to the struggles that deaf people face on a daily basis. ADP hopes to bridge this gap in awareness simply by teaching the basics of ASL to people who can hear. Benavente believes that on-court ASL communication is not only a foot in the door to the greater education of the language but will also enforce the inclusivity of the sport.
“Pickleball is fun, but is also good for your mind and your body. You can play with different people, old or young, it doesn’t matter. Pickleball is for anyone.”Shawn Benavente
If you’re interested in learning more about Arizona Deaf Pickleball, head over to their Facebook group to get connected!
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