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21 August 2012
How to develop a truly inclusive club culture
On the eve of the Paralympic Games in London, it's a good time to think about inclusion. Many Paralympic athletes got a start in their sport thanks to one of the many local sporting clubs world-wide that embrace inclusion. Unfortunately, such clubs are still in the minority.
In this second article on the topic, we examine what inclusion really means and how grassroots clubs and sports in Australia can go about developing a truly inclusive culture.
“We already do that”
Many sports administrators claim that their clubs are already inclusive because they don't exclude anyone. The typical response is: “We're open to anyone who wants to join if that's what they want”.
Others believe that their sport just isn't suited to people with a disability. The comment is usually along the lines: “It's easier for individual sports like athletics or gymnastics, but team sports just can't be inclusive and still be competitive”.
Do these statements sound familiar? The truth is that all sports have the potential to provide opportunities for people with disability to get involved as long as coaches and administrators are prepared to think creatively and look for solutions, not obstacles.
Just what does disability inclusion mean?
Is it people with disability playing alongside their able-bodied peers or playing with others with disability? Is it inclusion or integration or opportunity?
At Play by the Rules, we believe a club is truly inclusive of people with a disability when it offers a range of options and opportunities for active participation. What this actually looks like and how it plays out will differ between clubs, between sports and from person to person.
Consider these examples:
- With minor modifications to address venue accessibility issues, a lawn bowls club actively recruits people with physical disabilities to join their weekly league in which all members of the club participate.
- An indoor volleyball club has a designated training session for people interested in playing sitting volleyball. A coach is appointed and able-bodied players are invited to participate as part of their own training. All players are encouraged to also take a non-playing role in the club.
- A junior baseball team includes a young player with a range of disabilities. The rules have been modified so the coach can pitch to her from a closer distance and to allow for an allocated runner.
How do you do it?
Challenge your own perceptions about the abilities of people with disability. Perhaps you've never seen someone in a wheelchair abseil? Can a person with one leg surf? Your assumptions can affect the decisions you make and the actions you take. Just because you’ve never seen it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Define inclusion for your club. The process of doing this is likely to be more important and useful than the definition itself, so it should not be left to one person. Here’s an example of a club’s inclusion strategy:
‘Our club aims to be welcoming and friendly to all people regardless of cultural background, experience, belief, ability or characteristics. We want everyone to feel valued, to have an opportunity to participate and play a role in our club.’
Promote fair and inclusive participation by adopting a Member Protection Policy and a Disability Inclusion Policy. Simple-to-use templates for both can be found in the Play by the Rules Club Toolkit
Educate coaches and provide them with the support and resources required to be truly inclusive. This is not as hard as it sounds as coaching is all about catering for individual needs anyway. A toolkit or online education package specifically dealing with disability will help coaches to adapt the equipment or environment to suit.
Update your accreditation process to make managing inclusion mandatory for coaches and officials.
Form relationships with local disability organisations. Currently many people with disability play sport outside sporting clubs – a missed opportunity for everyone.
Talk and ask questions. Don’t assume you know what a person with a disability can and can’t do. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to try new ideas as this is often the best way to learn.
Bend the rules. Be prepared to change the sport’s rules and adapt the environment to cater for individual needs. Although it is not reasonable that all people with a disability must be included in all activities all of the time, look for ways to include most people and provide options.
Look for resources and funds. If you need additional resources to make the move to a more inclusive club culture there may be grants available to you. Consult with sporting organisations with successful inclusive programs and ask to use their resources.
Want to know more? Go to the Play by the Rules website to find hints, tips and information about the law or check out our interactive scenario about Disability inclusion. Also, have a look at the Australian Sports Commission’s Sports Connect program and The Inclusion Club.
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