Lawn Bowls in a Wheelchair

Try searching for a bowls club that caters for wheelchairs. It’s not as easy as you’d think.

There is a concept called the social construction of disability used to tackle the unnecessary disadvantages faced by people with a disability in their daily lives.

Providing ramps instead of just steps in all public buildings is an obvious example of how a simple measure can take away an unnecessary hurdle faced by a subset of people, and it usually happens that the majority will often make use of them and benefit as well. Ramps are expected and used by many people for a variety of reasons.

Lawn bowls is a very adaptable sport with many ways to help players with temporary or permanent difficulties. Speed and agility, even eyesight aren’t essential.

Players adjust due to age or injury. Bowling arms are used regularly in all clubs by bowlers who aren’t able to bend down or where arthritis in the hand makes holding a bowl difficult.

Balance problems can be overcome with a walking stick with a rubber end to protect the greens. Lifters are used to pick up bowls without the need to bend down. All of this happens as a matter of course.

Wheelchairs could, and should, be the same.  There are wheelchairs especially made for lawn bowls with the right wheels for the greens and low enough at the side so the player can easily reach the ground to deliver the bowls smoothly.

There are state and national policies that clubs should provide for wheelchair users, there are annual “disability games” that include players in wheel chairs.

In their Targeting Schools Handbook, Bowls Queensland includes a list of benefits that lawn bowls can offer: “Disabled students can participate alongside able bodied students with no disadvantage.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into making the sport accessible for casual or regular players at club level.

Despite having ramps to the clubhouse and a disabled toilet, there are rarely ramps to the greens. Some bigger, professional clubs have good quality ramps, and the staff to quickly bring them out when needed and without fuss.

Unfortunately, some clubs focus on the impact of a wheelchair on the greens and push the onus onto the potential member to find a solution.

The social construction of disability view is that the real problem is the big step down onto the greens and the need for special wheels because of the surface of the green, rather than the person in the wheelchair.

These problems of stepping down to the green and having to adapt shoes, sticks etc affect others including existing members. A solution that helps one person could be the solution to other difficulties as well.

Club members will split into those who see this as a problem about one potential member and question the need for the club to do anything because they might not even take up the sport, and those who see it as highlighting a huge deficiency in the club’s offering that need to be addressed for all potential bowlers.

Perhaps it is because of my background in small business, I see this more as an opportunity than a problem. By offering complete wheelchair access, a club can improve their offering to many members, to guests and to the community. They can increase their market for barefoot and casual bowlers, as well as full bowling members and show themselves as an inclusive, caring club.

Most bowls clubs have bowling arms and modern coloured bowls for the use of potential members during the initial try out and coaching process. At a time when clubs are trying to attract new players, why place obstacles in the path of people who want to find out if they can play this sport just as well as anybody else?

Just like the ramps around their buildings, if a club has a suitable wheelchair and ramps to the greens available as part of the standard offering, others will also benefit. There may be some current members who could participate for longer, come back sooner after illness, or play in special events.  Barefoot bowls groups may also include a wheelchair user and schools groups include students in wheelchairs.

These need to be permanent or easily accessed facilities for people in wheelchairs to play just like everyone else and not feel singled out or a nuisance (no dramas digging a ramp out for each occasion, no confining to end rinks, etc)

Turning away a wheelchair user loses more than one potential member. It loses their family or friends and sends a poor message about your organisation.

Small bowls clubs that aim to survive the changes in society need to grasp these opportunities to carve a niche out for themselves in their local community.

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