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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