Breaking down the barriers: Jonathan Goerlach on International Day of People with a Disability
International Day of People with a Disability (IDPwD) on 3 December recognises the contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million Australians with disability.
Sport Integrity Australia’s Athlete Advisory Group member Jonathan Goerlach says 1 in 5 Australians have disability not all of which are visible.
“International Day of People with a Disability is a day where we recognise the real life stories of lived experience, the progress our movement has made, but also highlights the mountain of work still to come to change attitudes and perceptions of disability,” Goerlach says.
As someone living with vision impairment, Goerlach knows only too well the perceptions that come with disability, but he hasn’t let that stop him from achieving great things in sport.
In addition to his Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games bronze medal and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, his sporting career includes many other achievements and national highlights. But it’s not necessarily these big wins that stick with him the most.
“I grew up in a small regional town where there wasn’t much else to do as a child but play some form of sport, so I found my way into several sports over many years. I have a naturally competitive nature so I wanted to be the best at whichever sport I played,” Goerlach says.
“My favourite sporting moments are my own achievements as a kid,” he says. “Winning my first tennis trophy, making my first State cross country team, scoring my first goal for my soccer club - those are the moments I reflect on and remember fondly which also fuels my motivation to continue achieving firsts such as being the first male vision impaired triathlete at a Paralympic Games.”
It’s these childhood memories and the love of sport that fuels his Paralympic dreams and his desire to inspire children around the world to live out theirs.
“I encourage kids to pick a sport they are passionate about and just go for it! No barrier is too great and the community that surrounds you in that sport will support your passion.”
As an active member of the Athlete Advisory Group, Goerlach has an opportunity to make lasting change, not just in Para sport, but in the sport integrity space generally.
“Para sport is a rapidly evolving world … with Para sports becoming truly elite,” he said. “As we start to see prizemoney and sponsorship become the norm it opens Para sport to the same integrity issues we see in able-bodied sports such as match fixing, performance enhancing and gambling, and the addition of classification manipulation.
“We need to get ahead of these inevitable issues and ensure our athletes and staff are educated and that we have robust systems in place.”
Observed by the United Nations as an annual day of recognition, IDPwD is a joint effort between government, schools, organisations, community groups, business and individuals to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with a disability.
To better understand what sporting communities can do to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy physical activity in an inclusive and supportive way, Goerlach says sports need to find solutions under the guidance of the person/s with accessibility requirements.
“Don’t look at the barriers and assume it’s all too hard.”
For more information about IDPwD including resources and information kits for communities, head to the International Day of People with Disability website.