Accessibility for All: Madison ice rink specifically designed to accommodate athletes with physical, cognitive disabilities

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 6:35 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Madison Ice Arena is home to traditional ice sports, as well as adaptive hockey teams. It is specifically designed to accommodate athletes with physical and cognitive disabilities, by offering an easily accessible rink and special plexi-glass boards for players to see through while on the bench. This is especially important for sled hockey players, like Jonah Wortman.

Jonah’s mom Jessica says her son was born with a rare genetic disorder that impacts all areas of development, from gross and fin motor, to speech and language delays.

“For us this is Jonah,” Jessica said. “He’s always been. There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s always been Jonah.”

But his condition has made social life, including sports, a challenge. The Wortman’s learned about sled hockey at MIA through word of mouth and decided they’d give it shot with Jonah in March 2021.

“The first time we came here we sat here in awe because were so remarked by so many people who have the same disabilities as Jonah,” Jessica said. “To feel like we aren’t different, he’s not different, we fit in.”

Jonah’s sister Anna said at first, her brother was shy on the ice, but she’s seen him grow.

“In beginning he stayed more on the edge of the rink rather than in with the team, spectating watching, more shy,” she said. “Coming to where he is now as a goalie talking with all the other payers, laughing asking questions, you can see how far he’s come since March.”

Jonah’s family says the sport is a perfect fit.

“He likes to be out here with is friends,” said Jessica. “Makes him feel like a part of a group that he certainly belongs to in every aspect... He’s starting to tell people when they come over ‘I’m a goalie on the Sting team’ and he’s very proud. Absolutely we’ve seen that change in him.”

Coach Todd Koerber coaches Jonah and his teammates. He is able bodied and grew up playing hockey himself. His daughter Mary, however, has spina bifida, a condition that requires her to use foot braces to walk. Like the Wortman Family, the Koerber’s heard about sled hockey through the community and signed Mary up. It wasn’t long before he took over as coach for the sled hockey team.

“Sled hockey is not a whole lot different than stand up hockey,” Koerber said. “Playing the same rules... pretty much the same techniques that you would in hockey. Only difference is the equipment and how you propel yourself around the ice.”

He has coached the team for six years and says it is one of his greatest joys.

“I consider it a blessing for me to be able to coach these kids and be around them,” he said. “They really do inspire you. No matter what’s going on in their life they are out there having fun. It’s a chance to get away and forget about all the things that are going on in life and just have a blast with friends.”

MIA is also an official Paralympic ice rink. Team U.S.A. has hosted practices and tryouts there in the past. The paralympic teams will take to the ice in Beijing in March.

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