I’m flying the flag for deaf women’s rugby and disability rights

A smiling woman wearing an England Deaf Rugby Union t-shirt

As a deaf woman, mother and rugby player, I was honoured to be selected to head to Australia this year with the World Deaf Rugby 7’s. I’m really excited to get to Sydney where I’ll not only be flying the flag for England, but raising awareness of the importance of inclusive and accessible sports for disabled people.

My parents, children and I have disabilities that led to my passion for disability inclusion in sport

As a child, I was a carer for my parents. My mum and dad were both amputees as a result of having an X-Linked hereditary syndrome called Renal Tubal Acidosis, and also polio. In fact, my parents first met at Roehampton hospital where they were both being treated at the time.

Growing up, I witnessed and shared many years of my parents encountering the difficulties associated with having disabilities, not only personally, but also the barriers that society posed.

Now I’m a parent of four children. Three of my kids have autism, and two are profoundly deaf. We have a rare condition in our family known as stapes gusher syndrome, and also mondini syndrome which affects hearing. Through genetic testing, I learned that I also have the syndrome. This has resulted in a loss of 50 decibels in both of my ears.

My own experiences, and my family’s, led me to become passionate about disabled people being included and supported in society. So I started working for Sense last year as a Support Worker, helping to support other people with disabilities, including deafblindness and complex communication needs.

Rugby has been an important part of my life

A group of deaf women playing rugby on a rugby pitch

Working for Sense I also got to learn about the fantastic work they do around accessible and inclusive sports activities.

I’ve played sports since my early teens – netball predominantly, but then after a while of mum duties taking precedent, I decided I’d give rugby a go and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve been playing rugby now for 12 years, for the last four years I’ve been a proud squad member of the England Deaf Women’s squad.

Playing sports has always been an important part of my life, and has given me skills that I’ve been able to transfer into daily life. Playing team sports keeps me fit and alert, provides me with lifelong friends who are like family, all having similar interests – albeit with very different backgrounds – and we all are passionate about disability inclusion in sport.

Playing sports enables me to achieve many things. Rugby specifically is great for teamwork, discipline, respect and above all enjoyment. Winning is great, but taking part and being part of the sporting family is the main element for me.

Having a hearing impairment means we listen with our eyes, and communication is paramount. We adapt our play to our disability and use our disabilities as our strength and advantage!

Sports encourages trust and provides sustainable and genuine friendships. Being part of team is an honour and privilege, giving me an unprecedented feeling of pride. It gives you memories and stories, laughter and lifelong lessons.

Heading to Australia with the England Deaf Rugby Union

I feel incredibly honoured to have recently been selected to represent my country alongside my team mates in the first World Deaf Rugby 7’s in Sydney, Australia in April. It will be the first major international Deaf rugby event for more than fifteen years.

The event is organised by the England Deaf Rugby Union (ERDU), a registered charity run by a team of volunteers. They support deaf women and men with a wide range of hearing loss to play rugby.

Going to Australia, playing rugby, doing what I love, and being given the opportunity for the EDRU men and women’s squads to bring home the silver is a dream come true.

You can sponsor Gloria in her trip to Australia by giving to her GoFundMe page.

Find out more about Sense Sport which aims to increase the range of physical activities available to disabled people with complex communication needs.

Author: Gloria Mills

Gloria is a support worker for Sense. She plays rugby for the England deaf women's squad. She is a mother of four children with autism and hearing impairments.

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