How hosting the Paralympic Qualifiers is making Fort Wayne more inclusive

The largest international event ever held in Fort Wayne is just a few weeks away, and it’s already making the Summit City more accessible and inclusive.

Fort Wayne’s own Turnstone center for people with disabilities will host the International Blind Sports Federation’s Goalball and Judo Paralympic Qualifying Competition from June 28th to July 9th.

These events will bring more than 600 athletes, coaches, officials, and delegates from more than 40 countries across the globe to Fort Wayne to compete for their place in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

The Paralympic Qualifiers has never been held in the U.S. before, and it’s projected to have an estimated economic impact of $1.2 million to the local community.

Goalball is a team sport, similar to soccer, that’s designed exclusively for athletes who are blind or visually impaired. It will be played at Turnstone’s world-class Plassman Athletic Center at 3320 N. Clinton St. and at Indiana Tech from July 2nd to July 9th.

Judo is an adaptation of Japanese martial arts for the blind. It will take place at the Grand Wayne Convention Center downtown from July 3rd  to July 5th.

For both events, spectators are welcome during all competition times. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted at the door.

Turnstone is home to the U.S. Men’s and Women’s national goalball teams.

The Welcome Ceremony for the competition will be held on July 2nd at Parkview Field at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony will feature performances from the Unity Performing Arts Choir and Sweetwater All Stars, as well as a Parade of Countries. Tickets can be purchased at $5 per person, and all children 12 and under are free.

Mike Mushett, CEO of Turnstone, sees the excitement around these events as a sign of the Center’s growing potential in northeast Indiana.

“Over the last few years, we’re building a reputation in hosting high-quality events for athletes with disabilities,” Mushett says. “It could not happen without the widespread support of the community.”

Receiving this bid for the Paralympic Qualifiers is not the first time Turnstone has been recognized in the international community for its adaptive sports.

The U.S. Olympic Committee designated Turnstone as its 7th U.S. Paralympic Training Site for current and future Paralympic athletes. Turnstone is also the home of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s national goalball teams.

In 2018, it hosted Junior Nationals—the largest youth sports event in the U.S. for people with disabilities.

“We want to be known as the best place in the United States for adaptive sporting events,” says Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.

To prepare for visiting athletes and their families, Turnstone, with assistance from the League for the Blind and Disabled, has conducted sensitivity training for Fort Wayne hospitality workers. The training focuses on broadening awareness about how to appropriately interact with someone who has a disability or visual impairment, as well as with people from other cultures.

The City of Fort Wayne is also installing auditory crosswalks downtown at the intersections of Washington Boulevard and Harrison Street, Calhoun Street and Washington Boulevard, and Jefferson Boulevard and Harrison Street.

These crosswalks are designed to audibly alert pedestrians when it is safe to cross the street.

Thanks to local artists and organizations throughout the community, art displays and entertainment will also be provided for international guests visiting Fort Wayne during the first week of July.

Most of these displays will be geared toward people with visual impairments, such as performances from the Fort Wayne Philharmonic during the Fort Wayne Patriotic Pops concert at Parkview Field on July 3rd and the Embassy Theatre’s Grande Page theater pipe organ on July 5th.

The Downtown Improvement District’s Art This Way program is also providing a walking tour of the downtown murals for athletes and their guests. The public art displays will include tactile signs that describe the art for visitors who are blind or have visual impairments.

These events are just a few of the many ways the local arts community is welcoming international guests during their stay for the Paralympic Qualifiers.

As Fort Wayne attracts more adaptive sports competitions, the city is evolving to be accessible for visitors and residents of all abilities year-round, too. Visit Fort Wayne’s new accessibility resource webpage was created to identify accessibility features within public spaces.

“One of the reasons we have been able to bring this event to the United States, into Indiana, and into Fort Wayne is because of how welcoming Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana has proven to be,” says Stasha Carrasquillo, Turnstone’s Chief Marketing Officer.

For the Paralympic Qualifiers, Turnstone will need about 600 volunteers—the most volunteers ever asked from the community. People can sign up for volunteer opportunities either individually or as a group. Volunteers aren’t required to have prior experience and will be trained onsite for a variety of jobs from setup and registration to monitoring and escorting athletes.

With so much engagement from the community so far, Turnstone and its partners aspire to make Fort Wayne the Adaptive Sports Capital of America and bring even more large-scale adaptive sporting events to the city.

“The fact that they’re coming to Fort Wayne and will go back to their various communities around the world with favorable impressions of Fort Wayne—which most people never heard of before—is very exciting,” Mushett says.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Ali Brand.

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ali Brand graduated from the University of Saint Francis with a bachelors degree in English. For as long as she can remember, she has always loved writing, and she aspires to use her passion to promote her hometown.