Q&A with Toby Pattullo

In this Q&A session, we’re excited to welcome Toby, our dedicated web developer here at ASAPD. Toby is profoundly deaf and has an extreme passion for sport. Early challenges in his career prompted him to forge his own entrepreneurial path, specialising in website development. His involvement with organisations like ASAPD and Deaf Sports Australia highlights not only his professional expertise but also his commitment to enhancing accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Outside of his work, Toby’s passion for ultra-running reflects his resilience and determination, showcasing his ability to overcome barriers and achieve personal milestones. 

 Welcome Toby! Thank you for joining us. Before we begin our discussion, could you please provide an overview or share some insights into your background?

I am the web developer for ASAPD. I have been profoundly Deaf since the age of four due to meningitis, and I communicate using Auslan. I hold a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in Sports Management. In the late 90s, I encountered challenges in securing a permanent job within the sports industry due to its competitiveness and communication barriers. However, I managed to secure small contract jobs, including twice with a Melbourne Major Event Company, where I provided research assistance. This experience inspired me to start my own online research business. Over the past 24 years, I have taught myself website development and expanded my business to focus on building websites for others, establishing relationships with designers and agencies along the way.

Could you briefly explain how you became involved with the Australian Sporting Alliance for People with a Disability (ASAPD) and one of their partners, Deaf Sports Australia? 

 I have been involved in the Deaf sports community for many years, having competed with the Deaf Australia Basketball team twice. In 2005, during the Deaflympic Games in Melbourne, where I was a webmaster, I developed a strong network with Deaf Sports Australia. This experience led me to become involved with ASAPD and Australia Blind Sports as well.

In your role as a website designer for ASAPD and Deaf Sports Australia, why was collaboration with these organisations crucial, and how does technology contribute to enhancing accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing community in your work?

 Collaboration was essential, drawing upon my 23 years of experience in website development and collaboration with various designers from marketing agencies. Moreover, my personal experience with deafness and disability allows me to understand the unique needs of these organisations and their audiences. Regarding technology, I believe it plays a vital role in improving accessibility for the disability community. For instance, my expertise in web development enables me to create websites optimised for screen readers and provide closed captioning for videos.

 Shifting to your personal interests, you’re involved in Ultra Running. Can you share how you initially got into this sport?

 I’ve always been active and high-energy, participating in sports like basketball and rowing since I was younger. When I started my own business from home, I would often go for runs to clear my mind and feel refreshed. I ran my first couple of marathons about 16 years ago but stopped. However, I rediscovered my love for running, particularly in trail runs and ultra-running events. It has been my hobby for the past 7 years.

 As a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, do you believe that your participation in ultra-running has helped in raising awareness about the abilities and achievements of people with disability?

 While my participation in ultra-running wasn’t aimed at raising awareness about my deafness, I’ve found that I’ve inspired many people through my achievements and involvement in these events. It’s been a personal journey and hobby for me.

Could you share some insights into your training routine and preparation for ultra-running events? Any secrets or specific tips you’d like to share with fellow enthusiasts who might be aspiring to take on similar challenges?

 I follow a consistent training routine leading up to the event, with a rest day each week. My training includes strength workouts, slow recovery runs, high-intensity interval runs, hill repeats, and long runs. An important tip is to learn to eat while going for long runs to sustain energy. Start with smaller distances and gradually build up; maintaining consistency is key. Focus on proper running form to prevent injuries and enjoy the outdoors.

Considering the importance of communication in ultra-running, how do you navigate challenges in this aspect, especially given your deaf or hard of hearing status?

 I’m grateful for my GPS watch that alerts me if I go off track. It’s a useful tool for everyone, not just for me. Once, someone yelled at me from behind to let me know I was going the wrong way, but I received the alert on my watch and turned around. I saw someone running toward me and waving, and it was a funny moment!

 What has been one of your most memorable moments or achievements in your ultra-running career so far?

One of my most memorable moments in my ultra-running career was during the Great Southern Endurance Run in 2022 in Harrietville/Mt Hotham. It was a 50-mile (80km) run with a 5,000m vertical climb. The run was challenging, with a really bad thunderstorm and heavy rain in the mountains. It took me a bit over 18 hours, and I ran in the dark. Unfortunately, the event was stopped 13 km before the downhill stretch to the finish line due to safety concerns. I attempted the race again in 2023, but it was a very hot day, and I had to stop at 57 km and 3,500m climbs, with a time of 13:33 due to digestive distress from heat exhaustion, which I’d been battling for over 5 hours. I’m hopeful that my third attempt this year in November will be successful!

Looking ahead, what are some of your goals or aspirations, both in terms of your involvement in sports and professional work?

For my work, I’ve achieved many goals in my skills and business over nearly 25 years. I’m happy with where I am now and plan to continue enjoying my work and business while maintaining strong relationships with clients. In sports, I hope to stay involved in ultra-running for a long time, even into old age! On my list of goals is running a 100-mile event in The Grampians, Mt Hotham, and New Zealand.

Considering your involvement with ASAPD, can you share your thoughts on the importance of this organisation and how it contributes to the broader goals of accessibility and inclusivity in sports for people with disability?

I believe ASAPD plays a vital role in promoting inclusivity and accessibility in sports for people with disability. By uniting various disability organisations, ASAPD creates a stronger, more inclusive community, and opens up more opportunities for individuals with disability to participate in sports.

Fast five: Top food, top book, top destination, top person, top tip

  • Top Food: Lobster
  • Top Book: Born to Run
  • Top Destination: Japan
  • Top person: My best friend since childhood, Kane.
  •  Top tip: Make the most of it, stay relaxed, and life’s too short to take too seriously.

Q&A with Pierre Comis


Meet Pierre Comis, the dedicated and passionate CEO of Special Olympics Australia (SOA). With over two decades of experience in sport development and participation, Pierre’s journey includes notable roles with major sporting organisations such as the AFL and NRL, as well as 12 years at the Australian Sports Commission. His commitment to inclusivity became evident when he designed and developed the Inclusive Sport in Schools program, ultimately leading him to take on the role of CEO at SOA.

Pierre, a father of three, is not only a seasoned professional but also a role model for inclusion, driven by the desire to make a positive impact in both his professional and personal life. His leadership at SOA is marked by a focus on Physical Literacy, strategic partnerships with National Sporting Organisations, and innovative initiatives like the Inclusive Sport Academy. Pierre’s vision extends beyond traditional barriers, emphasising the importance of inclusivity, accessibility, and enjoyment for everyone involved. With a track record of success, including Australia’s remarkable achievements at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Pierre Comis is steering Special Olympics Australia toward a future where individuals with intellectual disability not only participate in sports but also become valued members of the broader sports community.


Welcome, Pierre! We’re excited to have you join us. Can you please give us a glimpse into your professional background, highlighting the key milestones that led you to your current role as the CEO of Special Olympics Australia?

Thank you for the warm welcome! My professional background spans over 20 years in sport development and participation and I’ve had the privilege of working with several sporting organisations here in Australia, including the AFL for four years, the NRL for two years, and 12 years at the Australian Sports Commission (ASC).  

My journey with Special Olympics Australia (SOA) began with a contract to design and develop what is now the Inclusive Sport in Schools program. This revealed to me the potential for working in disability sports. Motivated by this, I pursued the CEO role when it came up at SOA, aiming to play my part to amplify inclusivity.

As a father of three inquisitive children in primary school, I’m motivated to be a strong role model for inclusion. It’s important to me that I demonstrate the value of making a difference and fostering inclusivity, both in my professional role and as a parent.


Having worked with major sports organisations such as the AFL and NRL in the past, how has that experience influenced your approach to fostering participation in sports at different levels? Are there any specific strategies or insights you’ve gained that you find particularly valuable in promoting inclusivity? 

Absolutely, my time with the AFL and NRL has significantly shaped how I approach sports participation at all levels, especially in terms of driving inclusion.

One key insight was the importance of adopting a Physical Literacy (PL) approach that focuses on developing the whole person. This becomes particularly crucial in an era where declining physical competence, confidence, and motivation has fuelled the decrease in physical activity.  Special Olympics Australia (SOA) has embraced this approach in our new Schools and Playing for All programs, recognising its role in cultivating a lifelong love for sports and physical activity.

To deliver inclusion outcomes, building partnerships between SOA and National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) has proven pivotal. SOA brings expertise in working with individuals with intellectual disability (ID), while NSOs specialise in the delivery of specific sports. By collaborating strategically, we can pool resources and expertise for more impactful programs. 

This is also a focus of the broader ASAPD organisation, led by our CEO Dr Phil Hamdorf. ASAPD is perfectly placed to deliver the essential resources, information and expertise to sporting organisations, to enable more people with disability to be adequately included in sport around the country.

Additionally, the Australian Sports Commission’s modern approach to coaching and hence, coach education, has been extremely valuable. The key is to adapt your coaching style based on varying ability levels of participants, regardless of disability. By embracing this approach, we ensure sports are not just accessible, but enjoyable for everyone – this aligns perfectly with our mission at Special Olympics Australia.


As the CEO of Special Olympics Australia, what do you perceive as the distinct challenges and opportunities in promoting sports and physical activity for individuals with disability?

The landscape of promoting sports and physical activity for individuals with disability presents distinctive challenges and opportunities.

One major challenge is the above-mentioned decline in Physical Literacy (PL), impacting both those with disability and the broader population. There’s also a lack of awareness about accessible sports opportunities, demanding more effective promotion and widespread information dissemination.

Coach education forms another hurdle, with coaches often feeling unprepared to work with individuals with disability. To overcome this, our online learning platform – Inclusive Sport Academy – equips coaches, teachers and industry professionals with the skills and confidence necessary for inclusive sport coaching.

Amidst these challenges, numerous opportunities arise. Collaborating with National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) to co-design programs lets us tailor solutions and bridge gaps. Leveraging NSOs’ reach and credibility offers a powerful avenue to promote inclusivity through established platforms. Balancing these challenges and opportunities propels our mission to make sports and physical activity inclusive, engaging, and empowering for individuals with disability across Australia.


Have there been any specific initiatives or approaches that you have implemented to address these challenges and maximise the potential for inclusion?

Absolutely, we’ve implemented several impactful initiatives to address challenges and enhance inclusivity. One strategy of ours was to integrate physical literacy (PL) into program design and coach training to further reinforce our commitment to inclusivity through education. You will see this in our programs; Inclusive Sport in Schools, Playing for All, and Young Athletes, along with our new coaching course, “Improving Physical Literacy for People With ID”.

Collaborating closely with National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) has also propelled our efforts. We’ve formed partnerships across four core areas: Delivery in Schools, Coach Training & Education, Local Clubs/Programs, and Joint Competitions. For example, Gymnastics Australia introduced a Special Olympics division in the National Club Championships, while Bocce Australia included Special Olympics Australia athletes in their National Championships. Aligning with NSOs strategically allows us to leverage their expertise and resources, therefore creating incredibly impactful programs.


The Australian team achieved remarkable success at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin earlier this year. Could you share some highlights of the team’s accomplishments and the impact it has had on the athletes and the broader Special Olympics community in Australia?

The achievements of the Australian team at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin were exceptional and have made a lasting impact on both the athletes and the wider Special Olympics community in Australia. To say I am proud is an understatement. To provide a brief snapshot: 

  • The event featured 7,000 athletes from 176 delegations, participating in 26 sports over 9 days, making it Germany’s largest multi-sport gathering since the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. It also marked the first return of the Olympic flame to Berlin since the 1936 Olympic Games.
  • The Opening Ceremony drew an impressive audience of 50,000 spectators, with a total of 330,000 individuals attending venues throughout the Games.
  • Australia’s team of 64 athletes secured a total of 63 medals, including 15 gold, 22 silver, and 26 bronze medals.
  • The Australian team was supported by 164 official supporters (family), marking the largest support group ever.
  • The team’s success also gained extensive media coverage, including 43 radio interviews, 7 TV spots, and numerous articles.

As a member of the Australian Sporting Alliance for People with Disability (ASAPD), how do you believe the alliance contributes to advancing the rights and opportunities for people with disability in the realm of sports and physical activity?

ASAPD is a collective effort involving eight-member National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability (NSODs). This unified voice advocates for the disability sports sector, effectively raising awareness and influencing policies. By joining forces, ASAPD not only highlights the importance of inclusion and accessibility, but also shapes initiatives that drive tangible improvements in the opportunities for people with a disability.

This alliance provides a powerful platform that amplifies the voices and actions of member organisations. This amplification leads to greater empowerment, inclusivity, and participation for individuals with a disability, ultimately creating a sports landscape that’s more inclusive and diverse.


In your opinion, what are some of the key barriers that prevent participation in sports and physical activity, and how can these be addressed?

Participation barriers in sports and physical activity are complex and addressing them requires a number of approaches. As highlighted earlier, declining physical literacy poses a significant challenge. The conventional “build it and they will come” mentality falls short in today’s context, as the population lacks the competence, confidence, and motivation it once had. To overcome this, we must reimagine how we engage with physical activity, and look to an environment that prioritises inclusivity.

Additionally, the traditional framework of sports, particularly from the age of 12 and onward, tends to emphasise winning and competition over fun and engagement. To break down this barrier, we need to shift our thinking by offering modified programs and experiences across all age groups and ability levels. By diversifying our approach and offering alternatives, we create avenues where everyone can participate in accessible sports and enjoy it.  As a sport sector, we must seek to meet people where they’re at.

Expanding beyond traditional sports and embracing a broader view of physical activity is also essential. We need to connect participation to contemporary, inclusive, and socially focused sport offerings – acknowledging that physical activity can take various forms and still contribute to individual well-being. In doing so, we can make physical activity and sports more relevant and appealing to a wider audience.


What role do you believe sport and physical activity play in fostering social inclusion and improving mental well-being?

Sport and physical activity plays a vital role in nurturing social inclusion and enhancing mental well-being, and at Special Olympics Australia, sport serves as the conduit for individuals with intellectual disability to form meaningful connections. Through shared experiences on the field, athletes build friendships that surpass challenges, creating a strong support network for both athletes and their families.

These connections offer a sense of belonging and understanding. As athletes engage with peers facing similar challenges, they find strength in knowing they’re not alone, which in turn positively influences their mental outlook and self-esteem. In essence, sport is a powerful agent for social connection and mental wellness and is particularly evident in the Special Olympics Australia community.


Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of Special Olympics Australia? Are there any specific areas or initiatives you plan to focus on to further advance the organisation’s mission?

Our goals for Special Olympics Australia revolve around a new strategic plan, guiding our path for the next five years. Key to this plan is partnering with mainstream sports to promote inclusion. By collaborating with established sports organisations, we aim to expand our reach and create an environment where individuals with intellectual disability not only participate in sports but also become valued members of the broader sports community.

Additionally, we’re excited by the release of Australia’s first sport participation strategy by the Australian Sports Commission, which paves the way for sporting organisations to come together and reimagine the way sport is provided for all Australians. It will leave a legacy of unity and acceptance across the nation, inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the unique contributions of every individual, through the wonderful vehicle of sport. Special Olympics Australia is excited by the opportunity to ensure everyone has a place in sport.


Fast five: Top food, top book, top destination, top person, top tip

  • Food: Italian – especially pizza.
  • Book: Anything by John Grisham – #1 is A Time to Kill.
  • Destination: New York City.
  • Person: My wife, Rosa (a superstar wife, mum and all round human). I’m also a big fan of Arnold Scwarzennegger’s story – especially his resilience, passion and attitude to life.
  • Tip: It’s from Richard Branson and I applied it to my decision to both apply for and accept the CEO job at SOA! He says: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later”.

Q&A with Phil Harper


In our latest Q&A, we had the privilege of speaking with Phil Harper, General Manager of Deaf Sports Australia since 2019. Phil’s journey highlights his profound commitment to advocating for deaf rights, particularly in the realms of sports. Here, Phil shares his transformative experiences, insights into the positive impact of sports on mental health, and the invaluable mission of Deaf Sports Australia in promoting inclusivity and accessibility in sports for deaf and hard of hearing Australians. Phil is also an ASAPD Board Director.

Welcome, Phil, and thank you for joining us. Your dedication to the Deaf Sports Community in Australia is truly inspiring. As a person who is deaf, how did sports play a transformative role in your own life? Can you share a particular moment that influenced you to dedicate yourself to this area?

Communication access is a key to successful participation in community life and sport. Fortunately, with many sport activities, as a young kid communication was not a big factor to be involved and enjoy – we all just went out and played and had fun.

As I got older, despite being quite skilled in most sports, I started to fall behind due to coaches spending more time talking about the game, strategies, etc to help everyone achieve their best – so it became more and more about how your mind was able to understand and use that knowledge in the sport activity. Missing out on these discussions impacted my ability to go to the next level and compete well, and therefore gain personal satisfaction and confidence in my ability to participate and contribute.

I learned about why I was not succeeding as well as others later as an adult and the reasons why – it galvanised me to find ways to ensure that other deaf and hard of hearing sports people would not go through the same experience.

Having experienced firsthand the power of sports in your life, from your perspective, how does participating in sports positively impact the mental health and overall well-being of the lives of deaf or hard of hearing Australians? And why do you believe it is essential to continue encouraging and supporting their active involvement in sports?

It is clear that sport and physical activity is a significant contributor to enjoying a positive outlook on life and being part of a wider community for all Australians – deaf and hard of hearing people are no different.

A key aspect of our work is to offer sport and physical pathway opportunities for young primary school aged deaf and hard of hearing kids that leads to ongoing interest in pursuing these activities for the rest of their lives. We know from experience, that these opportunities, particularly if they are enjoying them with their peers, support a positive sense of identity and wellbeing and encourages them to aspire to ‘being the best’ they can be.

As the General Manager of Deaf Sports Australia, can you tell us more about its mission and vision, and how it aims to bring about positive social and physical benefits to people with disability through sports?

Our major goal is to strive towards full accessibility and enjoyment of sport and physical activity participation, whether that be through our own-created sport programs and events or through wider community activities.

We try to provide opportunities where we can and are resourced to do so, from grassroots to elite sport pathways through collaboration with all national, state and local sport organisations. This can lead to potentially representing Australia in International Deaf Sport competitions.

We are a community that has been around over 140  years since the first deaf sport club was formed, so we have developed a strong culture and connection that is embraced during our pinnacle event, the Australian Deaf Games, where over 700 deaf and hard of hearing Australians participate.

Deaf Sports Australia runs a number of programs and projects. Could you share some of the organisation’s proudest achievements and milestones in promoting deaf sports and inclusion over the years? 

In 2024, Deaf Sport Australia will be celebrating 70 years since they were formed as an incorporated Federation and 60 years since our first Australian Deaf Games.

We have many highlights on all levels that include successfully hosting the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympics with over 2,500 deaf athletes from across the globe; Active Deaf Kids schools program that started in 2013 and has seen over 5,000 deaf and hard of hearing children participate in sport clinics across Australia; and more recently 250 deaf and hard of hearing primary aged school students participating in an Athletics Sports day.

We are blessed with many deaf and hard of hearing Australians who have volunteered their time with our organisation in different roles including Board members, coaches, officials, sport program facilitators and sport activity volunteers – without them, we would not be a thriving and sustainable organisation.

Can you share some of the ongoing initiatives and future plans of Deaf Sport Australia that you believe will have a lasting impact on the lives of deaf and hard of hearing Australians? 

The 2024 Australian Deaf Games are happening in January in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie with over 900 participants enjoying 18 different sports and social / cultural activities.

We have just launched our first ever Museum exhibition at the Newcastle Library celebrating 140 years of Deaf Sports in Australia which will continue until March 2024 – this showcases our history, culture, language and sport achievements collectively which will instil a sense of pride and knowledge to all visitors.

The Australian Deaf Games are coming up in 2024, after being postponed from 2022. How does Deaf Sport Australia plan to make this event a significant sporting legacy and foster lasting impacts for both the participants and the broader community?

We are hosting our 19th Games in 2024, so clearly it has a legacy and ability to be our pinnacle event for deaf and hard of hearing sport participants and their families. We continue to increase awareness of this event to over 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing school students across Australia, as an opportunity to meet with their peers, enjoy a sense of identity and social inclusion which may give them a springboard to explore further opportunities along the sport pathway.

And what can athletes and spectators look forward to in terms of fostering a sense of community and inclusion?

There will be 14 sports across 8 days in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie region, which include a social and cultural program, ceremonies, Deaf Sport history museum exhibition experience and time to meet new and old friends.

The local communities will get a taste of having a cultural and educational experience in interacting with and supporting inclusion for the Games participants.

You are a Board Director here at ASAPD, how do you see the organisation’s role in promoting inclusive sports and changing community perceptions, stereotypes, and biases around disability?

Collectively, ASAPD has already and can make further in-roads in encouraging a more inclusive and equal ‘playing field’ for all Australians, in particular those who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have a disability. This is being done through advising and collaborating with the government, ASC and the Sport industry. We are now an active part of the Australian sport network and can influence positive change and directions.

The world has seen increased interest and appreciation for disability sporting events. How do you see these events contributing to changing societal attitudes towards disability, and how can we further amplify their influence?

Recognition that we are all equal and some are just different. A key message that continues to resonate and be a positive influence on society – we just have to make sure we can accommodate all those differences.

Fast five: Top food, top book, top destination, top person, top tip

Food – Vegetarian Lasagne (only if I make it)
Book – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Destination – New Zealand
Person – My father
Tip – Don’t bet


Q&A with Garry West-Bail

In our upcoming Q&A session, we had the pleasure of catching up with Gary West-Bail, Integrity and Project Manager here at ASAPD. With an impressive career spanning over 30 years in sports management at various levels—ranging from clubs to state and national platforms, including AFL, hockey, and multi-sports—Gary brings a wealth of expertise to the table.

His involvement in change management has been instrumental in fostering an environment of sustainable success, guided by a strong sense of vision, culture, and ethos, all supported by essential governance principles. In addition to his role at ASAPD, he is the Project Manager at Deaf Sports Australia. Gary demonstrates a deep commitment to providing inclusive sporting opportunities for individuals with disability, embodying a passion for creating welcoming and accessible environments for all Australians.

Moreover, his active engagement with the ASC Volunteer Coalition highlights his profound understanding of the crucial role that volunteers play at the grassroots level of sports organisations, ensuring their continued viability and success.

Thank you for joining us today, Garry. Can you share some insights into your extensive career in sports administration and what initially sparked your interest in this field?

I’ve always been drawn to the dynamic combination of athletic achievement and the various challenges that came with it. My initial interest in this field was driven by my own experiences, playing high-level sport in my early years, creating a natural transition into the world of sports management.

It was in my mid-30s that I made the decision to leave an international forwarding career to pursue a path in sports management. Fast forward over three decades, I’ve gathered a wealth of experience in senior sports management roles, spanning clubs, states and the national level; including my involvement with St Kilda Football Club (AFL), Hockey Queensland and Deaf Sports Australia. On top of that I hold degrees in Transport Economics, Accounting, along with Masters’ studies in Sports Law.

Beyond my professional endeavours, I’m an active participant in various volunteer roles within the sporting community too. Ranging from involvement with AFL clubs to contributing to the Queensland Olympic Council and local footy clubs, it’s all about my dedication to the growth and wellbeing of sports at all levels.

As the Project and Integrity Manager at ASAPD, could you highlight some of the key initiatives or projects you are currently involved in and how these will contribute to the advancement of disability sports within Australia?

We have several exciting initiatives that we are currently focusing on. Some include:

  • Enhancing the visibility and recognition of ASAPD through strategic branding and messaging with the aim to be a unified voice for all sports, all disabilities.
  • Creating a more accessible website that is both informative and navigable for all users. We aim to provide a hub of information, resources and updates that will foster engagement and participation within the disability sports community.
  • Continuous collaboration with key partners to develop education modules that will enrich understanding and awareness of disability sports.
  • The refinement of the ASAPD business model, ensuring its viability and alignment is in line with our organisational goals.

You are also the Project Manager at Deaf Sports Australia. With the 2024 Deaf Games coming up next year could you share your thoughts on the significance of these games for both the deaf community and the broader disability sports community? How do you anticipate these games will impact the visibility and recognition of deaf athletes?

It’s worth noting that In 2024, we’re celebrating 60 years of the first Australian Deaf Games in the current format, building on a legacy dating back to 1880 when the first inter-state competition took place. We are also celebrating 70 years since Deaf Sports Australia was formally recognised. These efforts collectively drive inclusivity and excellence in Australian deaf sports.

As with previous Games, 2024 will hold profound importance not only for the deaf community but also for the broader disability sports community. It’s a powerful platform for establishing lasting legacies that extend beyond the event itself.

To me, these Games are more than just a competition; they’re a means to amplify the voices and talents of participants. By providing a stage for athletes to be both seen and recognised, the 2024 Deaf Games will not only showcase their skills, but also highlight strong team ethos, and celebrate the passion that drives them to excel.

Participation, dedication and skill, will serve as an inspiration to others while challenging misconceptions about the capabilities of individuals with hearing impairments. Ultimately, the 2024 Deaf Games will not only elevate the deaf community’s standing within the world of sports but also contribute to a broader cultural shift towards inclusivity, diversity, and a greater appreciation for the achievements of all athletes, regardless of their abilities.

Within your current roles, what standout moments or initiatives are you most proud of?

There are several standout moments and initiatives that I’m particularly proud of. One of these is the evolution of the Inclusion Alliance, a collaborative effort between Blind Sports Australia, Deaf Sports Australia, and Sport Inclusion Australia. This alliance operated alongside the development of the ASAPD entity, and I’m pleased to have played a role in its growth.

Another is my involvement in supporting the establishment of ASAPD. From its early stages, I’ve had the privilege to contribute to shaping the entity and laying a solid foundation for its operations. It’s been an incredible journey, witnessing the growth of a new organisation committed to promoting inclusivity and excellence in disability sports.

On top of that, managing and providing support to the 2024 Australian Deaf Games Organising Committee since its inception in mid-2018 has been a significant accomplishment. Finally, collaborating with governments and cities to determine the host for the 2026 ADG are also highlights.

You are a strong advocate for volunteering in sport. What motivated you to join the Australian Sports Commission’s Sports Volunteer Coalition?

My motivation to join the Australian Sports Commission’s Sports Volunteer Coalition was to represent ASAPD and to ensure people with a disability are seen and heard in the sporting landscape. Additionally, it was an opportunity to contribute to the development of a cohesive plan to support a strong volunteer ethos, enriching their experiences and sense of self-worth.

With a background in coordinating and collaborating with volunteers throughout my professional journey, which includes overseeing various state, national and international hockey events, as well as three Australian Deaf Games, I understand the invaluable contributions that volunteers make to the success of sporting endeavours. This advocacy resonated with my mission to create an environment where all individuals, regardless of their abilities, are empowered to participate and thrive in sports.

How do you believe this coalition can contribute to ensuring that individuals with a disability are visible within the sporting landscape, and what role does volunteering play in achieving this goal?

I firmly believe that this coalition has the power to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes associated with disabilities by reinforcing the notion that sports serve as a vehicle for personal growth, confidence building, and self-empowerment. I also believe it can play a transformative role in ensuring that individuals with a disability are recognised in not only sport, but society in general.

Volunteering plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. It not only facilitates the practical aspects of sporting events but also cultivates an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. Through volunteering, people from diverse backgrounds unite, promoting understanding and respect. This collaborative spirit dispels misconceptions and empowers individuals with a disability to actively participate and excel, ultimately reshaping the narrative of disability in sports.

Looking ahead to the future, what developments or trends do you find most exciting or promising in the field of disability sports? How do you envision these advancements shaping the landscape for athletes with a disability?

The growing understanding, acceptance, and normalisation of inclusive thinking and actions that encompass the entire community. It’s incredibly encouraging to witness the widespread belief in the message and stories that advocate for sports as a transformative opportunity for all individuals to engage and reap benefits from participation.

This shift in perspective holds the potential to reshape the landscape of disability sports. As inclusive practices become more embedded, we can anticipate greater opportunities and engagement in sports across all abilities. Recognising the unique value that athletes with a disability contribute to the sports will elevate the sports experience for all.

If someone were to ask you for advice on where to start in making a more inclusive environment, where would you direct them? Are there specific resources you recommend they explore?

I would direct them to the ASAPD website. There, they can explore a range of toolkits, videos, and education modules. Engaging with these resources can enhance their understanding and belief in our person-first philosophy, serving as a solid starting point for promoting inclusivity.

Fast five: Top food, top book, top destination, top person, top tip

  • Food – anything from SE Asia in particular Vietnamese
  • Book – Saigon by Anthony Grey
  • Destination(s) – Vietnam, Laos and Mayrhofen in Austria
  • Person – grandparents for their different insight and support – both real and subliminally
  • Top Tip – How many directions does a river flow – two – from where the river has come and where the river is going to – at the confluence of these two directions you can see the bottom of the river and see where you are.

Q&A with ASAPD CEO, Dr Phil Hamdorf

We are thrilled to introduce Phil Hamdorf, PhD GAICD, our inaugural Chief Executive Officer here at the Australian Sporting Alliance for People with a Disability (ASAPD).

With a career spanning three decades in health, sports, and public administration, Dr. Hamdorf brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this pivotal role.

Having held prestigious leadership and advisory positions within government sport portfolios, he has also served as the President of Exercise and Sports Science Australia and Sports Medicine Australia SA.

Thank you for joining us, Phil. Can you please share a brief overview of your career and the story of how you became involved in the disability sporting sector? We’d love to hear about your journey and what motivated you to bring your expertise and passion to the cause of promoting sports for individuals with disabilities.

I began my professional journey as a trainee nurse at the Strathmont Centre in Adelaide, a government-operated facility that offered specialised services, housing, and training for individuals with intellectual disabilities. This marked my initial exposure to the world of disability. Following this, I pursued my education degrees.

After a brief teaching stint, I transitioned to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where I dedicated over two decades to the Department of Geriatric and Rehabilitation Medicine. During my tenure, I established the Centre for Physical Activity in Ageing, which provided a wide array of clinical, preventive health, and research programs tailored for older individuals, many of whom grappled with varying degrees of disability, primarily stemming from orthopaedic and neurological conditions.

Subsequently, I embarked on a new phase of my career within the South Australian public sector as the head of the agency responsible for sport and recreation. This move prompted my family to relocate to Sydney, where I assumed various senior executive positions within the sport sector.

Most recently, I have taken on roles on several boards across the sport and leisure sector in Australia. Throughout my career, my strong ties to sport have remained steadfast, making it a natural progression to utilise my expertise in promoting sport and enhancing participation for individuals living with disability.

Congratulations on your recent appointment as the inaugural CEO here at the Australian Sporting Alliance for People with a Disability (ASAPD)! What motivated you to take on this leadership role within ASAPD?

I found motivation in numerous opportunities that I believed could enhance and encourage involvement in sport and physical activity among individuals living with disability. ASAPD essentially serves as an ‘umbrella’ organisation that advocates for the interests of NSODs (National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability), and I saw this as an intriguing test of my abilities as a collaborator and facilitator.

As CEO, can you also share some initial thoughts and plans for advancing our mission and goals?

ASAPD faces a substantial task ahead to ensure the ongoing backing and collaboration of its constituent NSODs. ASAPD should focus its efforts in areas where there is no redundancy with member organisations, often referred to as the ‘white space.’ Specifically, it is imperative for ASAPD to foster collaborative initiatives in fields such as education, research and shared services. Furthermore, ASAPD must take a more proactive role in raising political and commercial awareness regarding the benefits of empowering individuals living with disability.

With your experience in exercise science, preventive health, and leadership roles in different organisations, can you tell us how health and disability sports are connected? Also, how do you plan to use these principles to improve the fitness, health, and well-being of people with disabilities through sports programs?

The advantages of raising one’s physical activity level are identical for individuals, whether they have a disability or not. The physical, psychological, social and mental health enhancements achieved through increased physical activity, particularly through sports, are valuable for everyone, regardless of their level of impairment. In fact, it could be argued that physical inactivity has more significant repercussions for individuals living with disability, making their participation in physical activity and sport even more meaningful and valuable. Although the methods of involving people living with disability may vary, the potential positive influence on their lives remains the same.

From your perspective, why is it crucial to have collaborative efforts among organisations and stakeholders in promoting disability sports and creating opportunities for individuals with disability, impairment or limitation to participate and thrive in sports?

Australia is fortunate to have a multitude of organisations offering sport programs and opportunities for individuals living with disability. While this expands options for consumers, it can also lead to discord and intensified competition for limited resources. Therefore, enhanced cooperation and collaborative initiatives are essential to reduce redundancy and optimise the utilisation of scarce resources.

As Chair of the Board at Skate Australia, how is the organisation actively enhancing inclusivity and accessibility? What unique experiences and strategies have you seen or implemented in this regard?

Skate Australia has been actively engaged in various initiatives. We recently brought in a specialist resource to conduct a comprehensive analysis, with a specific focus on gender equity, to identify opportunities for improving the environment for female skate coaches within skateboarding structures. Additionally, we have just formulated a Gender Equity Action Plan.

Our involvement extends to supporting local community organisations in advancing all-abilities activities and equipment through active representation and collaborative efforts.

Furthermore, we have participated in a mapping project aimed at identifying deficiencies in access to skateparks and skate facilities. This project will serve as a valuable resource for communities by providing a comprehensive overview of skateboarding options throughout Australia. Moreover, it will offer crucial guidance to councils and state governments in their efforts to make these facilities as safe and inclusive as possible.

As a member of the Project Steering Group for the nation’s first codesigned National Sport Participation Strategy Project, can you share some of the key objectives or initiatives that you and your group are currently working on to enhance sport participation?

Being part of the Project Steering Group for this initiative has been a tremendous privilege. While the strategy is still under development, it is poised to embody innovative methods and fresh perspectives in the administration of our conventional sporting codes. The emphasis will be on ensuring inclusivity in sport for all and recognising the significance of enjoyment and a sense of belonging. The group is focussing on several key principles, including equal access, lifelong engagement and a cultural shift. I am optimistic that this strategy will be both groundbreaking and audacious in its mission and determination to boost participation in sport.

Aside from your current roles and responsibilities, are there any other exciting plans or initiatives that you are currently working on or looking forward to in the future?

My son, who is an experienced builder, is constructing a new residence for my wife and I in Adelaide. It’s a thrilling but somewhat overwhelming endeavour for us, as we’ve never been involved in home construction before. Having to make a wide array of choices, such as wall finishes, colour schemes, placement of power outlets, solar systems, door styles, and more, is quite unfamiliar to us, as we’ve always purchased pre-existing homes.

Fast five: 

Top food – Seafood risotto

Top book – ‘Blood, Sweat & Steel’ by Curtis McGrath – an excellent read!!

Top destination – Noosaville, Queensland

Top person – Barack Obama

Top tip – I like the Confucius quote “He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”

Q&A with Katie Kelly OAM PLY

We were thrilled to catch up recently with one of ASAPD’s Ambassadors, Katie Kelly OAM PLY, a two-time Paralympian, Founder of Sport Access Foundation and a leading advocate for diversity and inclusion.

Katie won Australia’s first Gold medal in Paratriathlon at the Rio 2016 Paralympics and her final race was at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics where she finished 6th in September 2021. Her remarkable career includes two Paratriathlon World Championships, and a lifelong commitment to promoting diversity that started as a 15 year old lobbying  for better coverage of women’s sport, and her role on the local council’s Recreation Access Committee in 1995 to improve access to Sport.

Passionate about creating equal opportunities, Katie founded the Sport Access Foundation, a registered charity that provides sporting grants for young Australians with disabilities. She has received more than 500 grant applications nationwide, over 7 years, with over $75,000 grants provided and made a significant impact.

Living with Usher Syndrome, which causes hearing and vision loss, Katie’s story epitomises positivity and resilience. Katie is also dedicated to advancing opportunities for women in sports and improving accessibility for all Australians with disabilities.

Welcome and thank you for joining us, Katie! We’d love for you to share with us your sporting journey and what inspired you to become a professional triathlete?

When I was younger, basketball was my passion. However, as my eyesight deteriorated, playing sports that required peripheral vision became increasingly challenging.  

In my early twenties, I transitioned to half marathons and marathons, before eventually venturing into triathlons where I completed my first Ironman at Port Macquarie in my mid-thirties. I loved competing in the sport and over time I would have my coach join me as my running guide. 

A few years on, riding solo became unsafe, and at 39 years old, my ophthalmologist advised me to stop riding altogether. Following that appointment, I contacted Triathlon Australia, to inquire about participating in the Hawaii Ironman as a triathlete with low vision. During that conversation, they asked if I would be interested in representing Australia in the Rio 2016 Paralympics. 18 months after that phone call, I found myself standing on a podium with Michellie Jones as my Guide having won the Gold medal. It was an incredible turnaround on many levels. The opportunity to represent Australia at the highest level in the inaugural Para-triathlon race at the Paralympics was such a great honour and moment in time that will always stay with me.  


Congratulations on your outstanding sporting achievements. What was one of your most memorable competition experiences and what did you learn from it?

Certainly it is without doubt winning the gold medal in Rio. It’s difficult to fully capture the significance of that moment in words. However, I do know and am very grateful for what that this win provided me with the privilege and a platform to further my advocacy for disability rights and inclusion.


As an advocate for inclusivity and equality in sports, do you think societal perceptions of disability have changed in recent years?

It has improved. During my early career, I was hesitant to disclose my disability as a young graduate. I am hopeful that nowadays people, especially the younger generation, feel more confident in openly discussing their disabilities without fear of discrimination or misconceptions. 

Are there any particular movements, initiatives, or factors such as increased accessibility in workplaces that you believe have had a significant impact on promoting inclusivity and equality for people with disabilities?

It’s clear to me that the organisations that are thinking more about their culture and leaders are challenging their unconscious bias and ableism to remove barriers for people with disability to be employed.  I strongly encourage all organisations to keep questioning how they can be more inclusive and to dive deeper to better understand discrimination types as disablism and ableism – and if they do this – they will have more success with creating authentic and inclusive workplaces.

We all also need to consider the power of words, that is the game changer. The words that people use can be a real barrier to people with disabilities and prevent their opportunities for education, employment and social opportunities. It is critical that organisations and communities such as sports clubs, think about improving their language in their environments, so people feel comfortable to be their true self and included. 

Resilience and mental strength are often challenges for aspiring athletes. Can you share strategies you’ve developed to overcome obstacles and maintain a positive mindset?

There are many layers to this, but I think in essence, it comes down to the enjoyment you have and that the team around you is a healthy and happy place to be, and then your own mindset and what story you tell yourself each day, each race and your willingness to change or shift that narrative or mindset.

What advice would you give to Australians with disabilities who are uncertain about where to begin their sporting journey?

My suggestion would be to reach out to your school’s sports teacher for guidance. They can provide valuable assistance in getting started. Additionally, I recommend contacting your local council, as they typically maintain a list of inclusive sports activities in the area. Another helpful resource is organisations like ASAPD and their members, who specialise in supporting individuals with disabilities in sports and can provide further assistance in initiating your sporting journey.

Brisbane 2032 will shine a light on high performance sport in Australia, what work needs to be done for disability sports ahead of the ‘big dance’?

I feel there are several areas that still require attention. Firstly, improving access to sports is crucial. There are still numerous barriers in place, especially due to the limited availability of individuals who can support people with disabilities in enjoying sports. This includes guides, handlers, assistants, carers, and support workers. Secondly, continued investments by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) to assist councils and clubs in becoming more disability confident and inclusive. Lastly, there is a need to address equipment and facility accessibility. Many clubhouses, athletic tracks, and football ovals are not accessible to everyone, highlighting the importance of ongoing investments in our infrastructure to ensure inclusivity for all. If all these improvements can be put into action, it will most certainly be an exciting time for para sport in Australia, and one that I am looking forward to being a part of. 


What do you like to do in your down-time?

I quite often find myself tuning into the world of comedy, with Chelsea Handler and Celeste Barber being two absolute favourites. But when it comes to truly unwinding, I can’t go past ice baths followed by a sauna to chill.


Fast five: 

Top food or drink

  • Drink: Almond latte 
  • Lunch: Poke bowl
  • Fruit: Raspberries 
  • Vegetable: Broccoli 
  • Sweet: Lindt Dark Chocolate 


Top book or podcast

I’m currently listening to Dr Stacy Simms, International Exercise Physiologist and Nutrition Scientist. She was one of the first to dive into research to optimise training for female athletes. Her famous words ‘women are not little men’. 

The latest book from Dr Joe Dispenza, ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself’ is also a great one to tap into if you’re feeling a little stuck.  


Top destination

  • Beach: Portugal’s Algarves which I travelled to during my European Kombie van adventure with friends – absolutely stunning. 
  • City: New York. I have been 3 times, once for the New York Marathon, another time when my brother worked there and I experienced a week of New Yorker lifestyle at its best, then the last time with my sister, and whilst we spent most of it retail shopping a highlight was to also experience a NY Yankees baseball match. 
  • For the people, food and wine: Italy. One trip was for my cousin’s wedding in Rimini. Wow, fun! 


Top person

When I think of sportspeople – 

  • Cathy Freeman. It’s almost impossible to describe her impact and legacy. 
  • Dani di Toro. 7x Paralympian and 2x Co-Captain of the Australian Paralympic Team. She’s a person who has had a huge impact on so many people. 
  • Chloe Dalton and Millie Boyle. Both are outstanding women who have such compassion and humility in their advocacy for not only women’s sport but also sport for people with disability. 


In terms of advocacy – 

  • Megan Davis, with the work, dedication and generosity to help Australia heal.


Top tip

Always consider your seat of privilege and who is ‘not seated at the table’. 

ASAPD Q&A with Archie William Graham

Image by: ABC News: Chris Gillette

Archie Graham has accomplished extraordinary sporting success. Starting his tennis career at 15 years old, today, Archie holds the World #1 ranking in the PWII class, and has five world tennis singles championships to his name. 

Born with Asperger’s Syndrome, Archie not only competes against his peers with intellectual impairments but he also fearlessly challenges himself on the mainstream circuit.

Despite his success, he remains humble and is recognised for treating all players with respect, regardless of their skill level. He dedicates time to mentoring younger athletes, teaching them the importance of good sportsmanship and the attitude and hard work needed to succeed. 

A proud indigenous Australian, Archie has earned multiple Newcombe Medals recognising him as Australia’s top player with a disability, and he is eagerly anticipating the upcoming Bruce Lynton BMW Rosebowl Tennis Championships on the Gold Coast in August.

Congratulations on your recent success at the 2023 Virtus Global Games, Archie! Could you share with us what it means to you to win the gold medal in the II-1 men’s singles event and take back the No.1 ranking?
Thank you, the win meant a lot of things to me, initially it was a lot of happiness and relief as I had worked so hard for it.  I won my first World title in 2015 in Ecuador, and in 2019 at the Virtus Global Games in Brisbane I was Australian team captain going for title number 5 but lost to Great Britain’s Dominic Ianotti in the semi final.  We haven’t played a World event since then due to Covid.  We went to Poland last year for the European Championships and I was hoping to win back my number 1 ranking from Dominic but he wasn’t there.  So I have had to wait four years, it has been a lot of hard work and a lot of waiting and a huge relief when finally, it happened.

The Virtus Global Games is a significant event for athletes with an intellectual impairment. How did it feel to compete on such a grand stage and represent your country in an event of that magnitude?
It is always an honour and privilege to represent your country. As a proud indigenous Australian it is a great honour to represent my country and people, this was the seventh time I have been able to do that.

As someone who competes both in the mainstream circuit and against fellow international players with an intellectual impairment, how do you approach the different challenges and opportunities that each platform presents?
It doesn’t matter what environment I am in,  It is important for me to be true to myself and be who I am.  People react differently in different environments and have different ways of expressing themselves, there is no point trying to be different and fit in with someone who doesn’t treat you the same.  The tennis court is my happy place. It doesn’t matter whether I am training, playing mainstream or internationally, I want to do my best and I want to inspire younger players.

When I am on the tennis court I don’t think of myself as the world champion,  I am focussed on being me and doing my best.  I want to be an inspiration for the younger players so it is very important to me to set the standard of play and behaviour.  I am pleased if people want to beat me, but they will need to work hard for it.

Winning your first world tennis singles title at the age of 21 is an incredible achievement. Can you take us through your journey from picking up the sport at 15 to becoming a five-time world champion?

I have a brother (Lewis) and sister (Belle), we grew up with a tennis court in the backyard, we didn’t play competitively, but we had fun.  My Grandmother used to play tennis and when I was staying with her she would hit balls with me.  My competitive tennis playing started by accident.  I played a range of sports (Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, AFL) at school (St Edmunds College) and one day the tennis team was short a player so I said I can do that, I put my hand up and started playing competitive tennis.  From there I joined my local club and started playing on the weekend.  It was here that I met my coach Stanley Cuthbert.

I played a bit at the Special Olympics and one day one of the players said “You can go bigger than this at National and International level”.  We looked into it and I completed my eligibility registration with Sport Inclusion Australia and entered the 2013 Australian Tennis Championships run by Tennis Australia in Melbourne.  We didn’t know what to expect as we headed to Melbourne, but we were very surprised and pleased to win the Championship and be presented my trophy by Wally Masur.  That was the start, I have won 7 National singles titles and the 5 World singles titles since then.

Tennis requires a combination of physical prowess and mental focus. Are there any specific rituals or routines that you follow before or during a match to help you get into the right mindset and perform at your best?
Preparation is very important to help me get ready and to get into the right mindset before playing.  I have my set of dynamic warm up exercises that I go through including band work,  footwork and stretching. I also use music to help me start to focus on what I am doing. When things aren’t going as well as I like on the tennis court I take my time during the breaks to sit in the chair, reset and take my mind back to where I was doing well.

Alongside your individual success, you also won medals in the II-1 men’s doubles, II-1 mixed doubles, and II-1 men’s team events. How does playing in a team setting differ from individual competition?
It is very different having someone with you on court, learning skills of communicating, talking with each other and thinking about each other.  Physically it is easier but it is harder to maintain focus as I am now focussing on two people and we need to work together.  Sometimes you also need to help lift your partner, and sometimes they need to lift me when things aren’t going right.

I do a lot of work with the Junior development squads in Queensland and I enjoy the opportunities to play doubles with the younger players and helping them on their game.

For individuals who are inspired by your journey, what are some practical steps or resources that you would recommend to those starting their journey in the disability sports sector and want to get involved in competitive sports? Additionally, what advice would you want to give to anyone starting out?
It’s not just about the disability sports sector, it’s about getting into sport and the important role sport can play in our lives to stay fit, healthy and connected.  There are some amazing opportunities within the disability sport sector and pathways which I have benefitted from.  It is important to get out there and have a go, get out of the house and meet new people.  The pathways are there with Tennis Australia and Sport Inclusion Australia and with a lot of other sports as well.

Have a go and see how far you can go!

In addition to your athletic pursuits, are there any specific initiatives or causes that you are passionate about or involved with to create awareness and support for individuals with intellectual impairments?
I am passionate about tennis and I want to give back to my community. I am currently working with Tennis Qld, coaching the junior PWII squads and supporting the National indigenous carnival.

Fast Five:
Top food – Chocolate

Top book – Tennis Australia Magazine

Top destination – Poland

Top person – Rafael Nadal

Top tip – Live your life like it’s your last day.