Creating an inclusive environment for people with a disability

Creating a welcoming environment in which everyone, including people with a disability, feel they belong is everyone’s responsibility and should be everyone’s priority. Here are some tips everyone can keep front of mind to maximise the diversity of our swimming community and ensure a sense of belonging for all:

  • Negative attitudes can prevent access to participation more than any physical barriers. Aim to include everyone and be prepared to make modifications to rules, equipment or anything else necessary to include people with a disability in all club activities
  • Always put the swimmer before the disability. e.g. Simone is a swimmer with cerebral palsy. We are all individuals with abilities, desires, interests and problems. Some of us happen to have a disability
  • Be aware that many disabilities are hidden, such as intellectual, learning or mental disabilities
  • Be proactive, build awareness and educate others around you. Share your ideas and experience with others
  • Get to know your club members; everyone has different interests, skills, personalities and abilities. Recognise that people with a disability have many skills to offer and be encouraging and supportive of all members
  • Talk to people with disability. Not just their parents, assistants or coaches. Assume that people can speak for themselves. Speak in an age-appropriate manner and take the opportunity to learn about disabilities, keeping an open mind and heart
  • There is more to the story than a 'super-human', ‘trial over adversity’ or ‘tragic victim’ angle. Focusing only on this can sometimes be patronising, avoid describing people with disability as brave or amazing for doing normal things. Place their achievements in context and give credit when it is due
  • Often disability is associated with words such as 'victim', 'sufferer' and 'struggle' when in reality most people with disability live happy, healthy and successful lives. Often a better option is to simply say or write a person 'has' a disability
  • Remember all members are expected to act in an appropriate and non-discriminatory way and be respectful. Understand your responsibilities under the Safe Sport Framework
  • Always alert someone if you think you or someone else has been discriminated against, follow the steps in the Safe Sport Framework
  • Be aware of the incredible privilege the inclusive nature of the swimming activity offers its community and members of all abilities.
  • For Coaches
  • As a swimming coach you play a key role in the development and success of your swimmers. By being willing to make modifications and focusing on the swimmers’ abilities, you can be an inclusive coach. Your actions and attitudes will reflect on your team and others in the club leading to a positive and inclusive culture.

    Some points to check in on:

    • Some swimmers with disability may experience disadvantage when it comes to participating. Like all swimmers they will have varying abilities. Ask the swimmer what they are able to do and focus on maximising their abilities
    • Consider the factors that may disadvantage your swimmers with disability (such as the environment, equipment or your coaching style) and look at how these may be modified to make your coaching more inclusive
    • Get to know your swimmers, it is not necessary to be an expert on specific disabilities, but you do need to know your swimmer
    • Seek advice and best practice examples of inclusion from other coaches, your State/Territory association or local agencies that support people with a disability
    • Understand your responsibilities under the Safe Sport Framework.
  • For Administrators
  • As a swimming club administrator you are in a great position to develop and promote a welcoming, inclusive culture and accessible environment in your club. You should ensure that your club reasonably removes barriers to access and participation in your clubs activities so as not to discriminate against people with disability. Some tips for administrators include: 

    • Understand the moral and legal obligation to remove all potential forms of discrimination in your club
    • You may wish to develop an action plan for your club
    • Seek advice and best practice examples of inclusion from other clubs or your state association.

    Become the person who drives inclusion in your club and seek out further training and information.

  • For Parents and Carers
  • As a parent or carer of a person with a disability, you are able to support the continued development of an inclusive swimming culture. Much work is being done to ensure that opportunities exist for people with a disability to participate in all aspects, at all levels of swimming. Whether your child is swimming for fun or fitness, to be park of the community, to make friends or aspires to be a champion, swimming can provide opportunities for all to participate. Some tips for parents and carers includes: 

    • Allow your child to be a swimmer, encouraging them to make the most of their opportunities
    • Be open-minded and cooperate with the club coach or administration to determine ways to include your child
    • Understand your club may not be aware of the specific needs of your child so provide relevant information and support the club in their efforts to be inclusive
    • Help your child understand their responsibilities under the Safe Sport Framework
    • Encourage your child to let someone know if they feel they have been treated unfairly and talk to your child about the issue.
  • For Media Professionals
  • Communicating about people with disability can have a positive or negative impact.  The way a story is told can have a profound effect on how the public views athletes as well as people with disability. Media professionals are in a unique position to foster and promote positive and inclusive attitudes. How Media Professionals can help: 

    • Ask yourself if the person’s disability is really relevant to the story or situation. Only mention it if it is relevant, otherwise focus on the real issue such as the athlete’s performance
    • When interviewing a person with disability try to make the person feel comfortable during your conversation. For example; for a person who uses a wheelchair try to be at eye level with them by sitting, squatting or kneeling beside them. Remember that a person’s wheelchair is part of their personal space. Do not touch or lean on their chair unless invited to do so. For a person with a hearing or vision impairment position yourself where they can best hear or see you
    • Relax! When interviewing people with disability treat things as you would when speaking or reporting about any other person or issue. Nobody is going to criticise you for telling a person with a visual impairment that you might 'see' them later
    • Just ask. If in doubt, do not be afraid to ask. It is not rude to ask someone how they would like to be introduced or if it is ok to talk about their disability.

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