We created a system-wide approach to integrating people with disabilities into our sport, including a pathway to Special Olympics competition.
As part of the approach we began working with Special Olympics Australia to shape the changes that would allow athletes to progress through recreational gymnastics to full competition.
Together, we developed and delivered workshops to 10 Victorian gymnastics clubs and at the 2017 Gymnastics World Cup in Melbourne, Special Olympics gymnasts staged their own skills display, ahead of their mainstream competition debut at the Victorian Championships.
The success of our approach is embedded internally. We re-examined our internal systems and processes with the aim of breaking down barriers to participants with intellectual disability. This included our membership, promotion, programming, coaching philosophies and our approach to athlete wellbeing.
We developed new resources to support our efforts, including the Young Athletes Program, which is a recreational gymnastics program with lesson plans and provides a foundation for those wishing to improve their physical, psychological and social skills.
We also developed a dual membership model for Special Olympics, and refilmed Special Olympics International instructional videos to include gymnasts with disability.
We developed a promotional video, club flyers and posters to promote our new approach and forged solid external partnerships with groups working in the disability space to act as our sports’ “champions”. These included occupational therapists, specialist schools and others.
Having gained insights from world-first research that we commissioned in 2015 showing the benefits of gymnastics for children with a disability, we sought to build an end-to-end program.
Our aim was to develop a program that would not only become a nationally recognised approach to developing fundamental skills for people with disability, but also foster an environment where Special Olympics competitors competing alongside their mainstream counterparts becomes the norm.
Often the achievements of athletes with intellectual disability are seen as ‘bravery’ or ‘overcoming barriers’. We wanted to provide an inclusive approach that would give athletes with intellectual disability the respect and pathway they deserve. Our hope is that in the future Special Olympics gymnasts are just ‘gymnasts’, and that this model sets a standard for other sports.
The number of Victorian gymnastics clubs offering Special Olympics gymnastics has quadrupled in 12 months with programs offered to more than 500 people with intellectual disabilities.
Gymnastics Victoria has now included gymnasts into existing mainstream competitions, including the Victorian Championships. This means there is now an established pathway for gymnasts with intellectual disabilities to move from recreational gymnastics to competitive gymnastics.
Since we developed the program, the men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics technical committees have also added information on Special Olympics gymnastics into their year books to promote the program to all technical members.