“It’s in the too hard basket” –
In 2016 and 2017 when I worked for a large aquatic centre in the CBD, this was the phrase I got given to me by my superiors when talking about starting a disability swim program. However, every week I would have inquiries from desperate parents in need of swim lessons for their kids. I thought to myself, how can something so in need be so hard to facilitate? Surely if there is a big demand for something than a business should leap at the opportunity to provide a service for it. In contrast however, all across the country swimming and sport in general for people with an intellectual disability is something that isn’t even thought of. Companies’ find it ‘too hard’ to cater for specific requirements of each disabled individual, due to the need for extra training of staff, the extra cost to have a separate class structure or how to even begin developing a program for someone. It was my epiphany that these concerns are based on nothing more than a lack of knowledge and unwillingness to face our own fears when it comes to working with disabilities, and that people have been approaching disabilities from the perspective of ‘treating them different’.
The back story-
The first time I took a swim class as a 20 year old with someone with a disability I was terrified, I didn’t know how, especially in this case, a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder was going to behave at any given moment and how I would deal with that. It was evidently clear once that initial fear subsided that the kids at the time I was teaching, were not the problem. I was. The entire time, in their own way, they were performing all the tasks that were asked of them. The only problems were that I was treating them differently, thinking at any moment this person is going to flip out at me or do something un safe. I wasn’t holding these people to the same standard as anyone else. I would let them do what the wanted and just hope if I asked enough perhaps they would be miraculously able to understand what to do and then want to do it. I fundamentally failed to realise that this lack of respect for my athletes individuality was exactly what was causing my issues to teach them. It was then I committed to approaching the situation reflectively. I would no longer move the yard stick thinking that this kid could never listen or could never behave. I would now begin to do everything in my power to teach this kid how to listen and how to behave and it was my job to figure out how to do that. It is the recognition that people with an intellectual disability are capable of exactly what you and I are, and perhaps more importantly, more. This is what allows you to begin to think laterally about the situation. To question. How do I change my communication so that this participant can understand? Because we all have strengths and weaknesses in this world and in the disability sector this couldn’t be more than the absolute truth. I ask you reader, have you ever seen a non disabled person be able to remember exactly each meal, how much it costed, when they ate it to the minute and how it was made for the last two months? Probably not, but I have seen memory retention abilities like this as well as pattern recognition, problem solving and physical work effort far beyond the average ability in my current ‘Disabled’ athletes. So it is time to stop ‘treating them differently’ and start working.
The way forward-
If disability then really means strengths in other places, than teaching disabilities is easy. All anyone has to do is figure out what your clients strengths are and model your approach around those. Hence in my company at least we have developed a repeatable and easily adopted ‘Three Step’ method for swimming with a disability. We use lesson structures with very progressive outcomes broken down into simple achievable goals. We take the time to teach our swimmers how the sessions work, when to listen, how to ask questions etc. The beauty is our athletes are so clever that if you teach them a skill right, they will always remember it. Our company then partnered with Special Olympics Australia to make our method applicable to all and since then we are helping more athletes everyday. You might ask, what about the above concerns? The cost etc? Well we committed from the start that we were going to run a ‘mainstream’ program just like anyone else in the country. This means that we have group sessions just like anyone else. Our current largest squad is 23 athletes, all people with different physical abilities and intellectual abilities, however they all swim up to 2km’s in the hour set and compete regularly. It just goes to show that offering good services to people with disabilities is not ‘Too hard basket’, in fact it’s super easy. So I implore any reader of this blog to think how they could help a seriously under appreciated market and maybe how they could employ the next perfect assistant for their company.
Owner/Director - SwimRight Australia Pty Ltd
We are a small company in an affiliate agreement with Special Olympics Australia the non for profit group who specialise in sport and recreation for those with a disability.
Our company currently is running professional and mainstream swim programs for athletes with a disability to get them from learn to swim all the way to competitive squads. When joining they are encouraged to become Special Olympics club members and go and compete in local, regional and international competition.
We have found so far that there is a huge demand for Disability swimming with no one except charities, who do their best but cannot really compete with quality with a professional service existing in the market place.
It is our mission to provide access to as many people with an intellectual disability as possible the opportunity to learn, train and compete in swimming and soon with our NDIS registration other sports as well.
We know we have a valued product from the feedback we get from our athletes and we would be proud to get the word out there.