Able2Do Anything: Sports

How sensory tennis is improving lives of disabled people

Lin wallace holding a tennis racquet and ball

Over the next few weeks you have a choice of either slumping in front of the TV watching Wimbledon or biting the bullet and knocking some balls over the net at a local tennis court.

For those opting for the latter option but feel their disability could be a boundary you have no excuses thanks to sensory tennis which has recently received additional funding from Sport England

One person who didn’t let their health stand in between them and a game is Lin Wallace [pictured above], who lives with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and vision loss.

The 64-year-old from Devon uses balls which make a sound when hit, so despite not being able to see they have a good incline to where to swipe their racquet.

In an interview with The Independent Wallace said: “Tennis is very important to me. When I’m being active, I feel calm. It’s part of how I support my physical and mental wellbeing.

“I’ve always wanted more opportunities to play. My vision loss has led me to find new ways of enjoying and playing the game and now, with sensory tennis, I can join in. Sensory tennis is designed for me and it makes me feel really happy. It’s my favourite sport.”

Paulette James plays sensory tennis in Barnet, being deafblind, non verbal and having a learning disability the sport has made an immense difference to their lifestyle and wellbeing.

Her support worker Nancy Williams said: “Paulette is very quiet but she knows what she wants. If we’re doing an activity she doesn’t enjoy, she’ll get up and stop, and since I’ve known her there’s not many things she likes to do. But then we found tennis.

“There is no day we have taken her there and she hasn’t enjoyed it. We’re so pleased she has something to look forward to.”

As you can see, sensory tennis is really knocking balls out the park when it comes to giving disabled people a new lease of life.

Mandy Burns, 60, also from Barnet and deafblind, would be the first to admit before taking up the sport, she did not have much to do during the day.

Her trainer, Tracey Robso, said: “Tennis is Mandy’s favourite thing.

“At first she was initially a bit confused about the concept, so we use hand-under-hand signing to help explain it to her. As the sessions have gone on, we’ve seen her smiling more and more.

“It’s amazing seeing the impact that sensory tennis has on Mandy and all the other participants. We have about 10-12 people that come every week and we’ve really seen the benefits. It helps build strength in the arms, which can help with other things like eating and signing.”

Louis Wickett-Padgham, head of sport and physical activity at Sense, believes taking up tennis can improve disabled people’s mental health.

“Stories like Lin’s and Paulette’s show there’s no reason why people with more complex needs shouldn’t be able to enjoy sport – we just need to provide a more meaningful, appropriate way to do so,” he explained.

“Tennis is a great example of a sport that brings really tangible benefits to players, as well as being a lot of fun.

“Playing tennis can improve motor skills, balance and coordination and, for people with complex disabilities, this can really help them to build up their independence and confidence both on and off the tennis court.

“With new Sport England funding, we hope to reach thousands more people through sports like sensory tennis, to help people with complex disabilities to lead more active, healthy lives, learn skills and make friends.”

[ Wimbledon 2023 runs from July 3rd - 16th ]

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