October 2020

Ballarat Aquatics

Photo courtesy of the Ballarat Courier

What we did

City of Ballarat in partnership with Latrobe Community Health NDIS LAC Service, Sports Central and Ballarat Autism Network, have supported the Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre to create greater access and inclusion at the venue.

Through this partnership, we:

  • Asked people with a disability, carers, families and service providers with lived experience of autism about their experience when accessing the leisure centre, and what could improve that experience.
  • Presented this feedback to the leisure centre and suggested improvement opportunities. These suggestions were based on the survey feedback and the results of an accessibility self-assessment the leisure centre conducted with Latrobe Community Health Service’s support.
  • Provided resources and practical steps to improve access and inclusion at the centre.
  • Explored opportunity for the centre to hold sensory-friendly sessions for children and adults with autism, and worked collaboratively to make this a reality.

Ballarat Aquatic Centre

Photo courtesy of the Ballarat Courier

Why we did it

Sensory quiet periods reduce anxiety and sensory stress for people who value quieter, less stimulating environments. Aside from dimming the lights, turning down the radio and encouraging other patrons to keep noise to a minimum for a set period, the centre also introduced sensory balance play, water playgroup and private swimming lessons for people with sensory sensitivities.

“Our team takes pride in the accessibility of our centre,” BALC Centre Manager Gerald Dixon says.

“We’re always on the lookout for initiatives that will improve the centre and our programs to meet the needs of all members of the community.”

The sensory quiet times were developed with feedback from, and in consultation with, members and users of the Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre, as well as the Central Highlands NDIS Local Area Coordination Service (Latrobe Community Health Service), Sports Central and the Ballarat Autism Network.

“We work closely with our key stakeholders to increase accessibility to the centre and the independence and confidence of people of all abilities,” Mr Dixon says.

“We know sensory-friendly environments are essential to many people with an autism spectrum disorder and their families, and we’re delighted to provide regular sensory quiet timeslots for our patrons.”

Lights are dimmed, music and announcements turned off (unless there’s an emergency) and signage placed at the front desk 10 minutes before each sensory quiet session begins. Patrons can attend a gymnastics class, aquatic lesson or have a casual swim in a quiet environment, with two sensory-friendly group change rooms available during this time.

As part of its inclusive approach, the centre also ensures customers have consistent swimming teachers and gymnastic coaches wherever possible. Processes are in place to alert customers if there are last-minute changes due to illness or emergency.

“We’ve implemented a weekly staff catch-up to share learnings from these inclusive initiatives and discuss opportunities to improve,” Mr Dixon says.

“Feedback from staff and our customers is crucial – this will inform the future look of our sensory quiet times and other accessible features at the centre.”

How we know it worked


  • The Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre is now registered as an Autism Swim Accredited Centre. Thirteen instructors completed the highest level online training with Sport and Recreation Victoria delivering face-to-face training as a follow-up.
  • Grampians Regional Communication Service provided Inclusive Communication and Easy English training for leisure centre staff, and developed communication boards for the centre’s aquatics and gym programs.
  • Volunteer gym coach opportunities created for local specialist school students.
  • We secured a drag mat to get people out of the pool quickly in case of emergency.
  • The centre launched its Sensory Quiet Times trial in January 2020.


  • “Thank you very much for your wonderful initiative. My son and I along with another couple of friends attended today from 3 – 4pm and it was just wonderful! Quiet, no stares, no comments and just an all-round positive experience! My mate and I intend to bring our boys each week now. Something I would have never done before this initiative.”
  • “More relaxing for my son with so much more less noise, great idea.”

Photos courtesy of the Ballarat Courier