| Key takeouts
- think about 'why' we want to include and the impact of our actions, particularly when we get it right
- the ability to empathise with the community you are trying to include is paramount to the success of inclusion
- does your sport adequately represent the people you are aiming to include in all aspects of operations - is your workforce reflective of the population?
- try to understand what it is like for people with lived experience of disability particularly those who require extra support to live an ordinary life
- understand your community by immersing yourself in it - then you can understand 'why' inclusion is important to the people that matter
Thank you very much Paul and thank you Pete Downs and the organisers for the opportunity to speak today. It really gave me a chance to reflect on my time working in and around the inclusive sport and adaptive physical activity space, which has actually been over the last 25 years. Yes, I was shocked too when I had to think about the numbers and over that time I’ve seen a big shift. We used to get the question “why should I include people with a disability?” and it’s moved. It’s now “how can I include people with a disability?” and we’ve seen that as a really positive change in this sector but today I’d actually like to change it back because I think we need to be talking more about the whys, about the impact on people’s lives if we get this right.
Impact has a couple of different levels. There’s the impact of doing nothing or of taking too long to start. There’s the impact of doing the wrong things or not going far enough in our work but I would really like to focus on is the impact if we get it right. I was actually going to talk to you about that and what it could look like but I don’t think I could do it justice and I think we don’t spend enough time actually on this space so I actually want to give up three of my precious 10 presentation minutes to actually show you a clip that actually demonstrates this a lot better than I could.
This is from the modified rugby program which is a program that started up in Queensland and is starting to spread and I’d like to acknowledge GingerCloud Foundation, the Brothers Rugby Union Club in Brisbane and the Queensland Rugby Union for the work that they’ve done to put this program together and continue to progress it. I’d also like to thank World Rugby and Studio 18A for allowing us to use this footage.
Families like ours, you know, you live in a world of survival for such a long time and you do find yourself in a place of such despair so the modified rugby program, yeah, it’s about the rugby but it is so about creating a place where we all feel safe.
Having a child with a learning and perceptual difficulty can be a very lonely isolated life as a family so for us we are always looking for somewhere where we could belong and that’s where we thought “well, we need to belong to our local rugby club”.
Four years ago we could barely imagine really leaving the house. Things were so bad for us as a family and now to be standing on the end of a rugby field and watching our amazing Max play rugby is just a life changing experience for us.
The modified rugby program is something that I’ve always wished for for us as a family and for Max it gives him the opportunity to pull on a jersey, to pull on his boots, run around, kick a ball, fall over, tackle, all those simple things that a lot of people take for granted but for him it’s breaking new ground, he’s learning new things. It’s just an awesome opportunity for kids like Max.
And it has been the most amazingly positive experience that you could possibly imagine. It has introduced our whole family to rugby. It has included Mattie in a team sport that he would never otherwise have been able to participate in. It’s given us exposure to friends, likeminded people with children in similar situations. It’s introduced us to these amazing boys who are prepared to take on our children as mentors, their parents. It’s introduced us to a club that we would never otherwise have been able to be a part of and it’s been such a positive thing for Matthew. He loves rugby.
I remember the night that we came in, a Friday night, where we came in not really knowing what to expect. The night that the rugby club president stood up on the chairs just here and welcomed us and welcomed us just as members of the club, not as members of something different or unusual, just as members of the club. That night I will never forget. It was an unbelievable feeling to be just welcomed as part of a club, part of a community ‘hey, you’re here to play rugby, your kids are here and you’re welcome’.
The ability to empathise with the community of people you’re trying to include is paramount to the success of inclusion. To emphasise this point in my workshops I run a really simple activity with people where I get them to think about a time in their life when they felt excluded from something and to describe that feeling with one word. Close your eyes and I’m going to give you 10 of my precious presentation seconds to do that now. Think of a time in your life when you felt excluded from something and one word to describe that feeling.
When we do this activity we often come out with very dark, negative feelings, despair, isolation, loneliness are three that you’ve heard in that clip. I always do the flipside as well and get people to think of a word to describe the feeling of what it means to be involved in their sport and out come the very positive words – welcoming, belonging, feeling safe, happy.
What amazes me time and time again though is that when I’ve done this activity in a room purely with people from the sports sector that there are always a percentage of people in the room who can’t describe that feeling to me. I’ve even had people say to me “I don’t know what it’s like to be excluded. I’m always part of the group” so I’ve learnt two things from actually doing this activity. The first is that sport has a powerful potential to make a long lasting and enduring impact on people’s lives and the second is that there are people involved in sport who cannot identify with the concept of exclusion. It’s quite a controversial thing to say so I’ll say it again – there are people involved in sport that cannot identify with the concept of exclusion.
If you’ve never been made to feel different, if you’ve never had difficulty communicating what you want or what you need, if you’ve never had to navigate an environment that wasn’t built for you or get around or work within rules that weren’t made for you, if you’ve never been made to feel like you don’t belong then you’re in a potentially poor starting position to be a driver of inclusion. It’s not to say that you don’t want to. There are plenty of people in our sports communities who are happy to jump onto the cause and are very passionate about making sure that everyone can access sport. My question is do they completely understand why they’re doing it?
Simon Sinek does a very interesting presentation. He’s written a book and he’s done a TED Talk presentation around Starting with Why. He uses these concentric circles to explain this concept. He talks about the fact that businesses are very good at communicating what they do and how they do it but they’re not very good about communicating and working on the purpose or their why. We talked about this at our forum that we ran in Queensland this year. What we really need to be doing in sport is actually starting with why and holding that at the centre. Simon Sinek says if we start at the centre and work our way out that we’re actually talking to that part of the brain that is involved with decision-making and controlling behaviour so we’re actually talking to the part of the brain that actually facilitates change. So we need to hold the impact of what we do at the centre of the work that we do.
We’ve been guilty of this in our work before. We were the State Coordinator of the National Sports Connect initiative back when it was running between 2008 and 2010. In our work in Queensland we were working with State sporting organisations to build their capacity to drive inclusive practices but we were also working with disability service providers. Now when we first started going in to talk to disability service providers it was a one-on-one consulting type conversation, we started to talk to them about the whats and hows about sport. We were quite excited about this. We were quite excited about the fact that we were working with this State’s sporting organisations and they were developing these programs or looking at their current programs and making them more inclusive. We were also excited about how they were going about it. They were writing action plans. They had Sports Connect charters. They were putting inclusive policy statements on their websites. They were training their staff. They were doing inclusive club audits and checklists.
This was very exciting to us to be able to share that with the disability service providers but we noticed very quickly that when we were talking about those whats and hows the cloud came down over these people’s eyes because it really wasn’t important to them about the what and the how. What they wanted to hear from us was the why. They wanted to know that we truly understood in our work and the work that the sports were doing that they understood why they were doing it so we needed to listen more. We very quickly understood we needed to immerse ourselves in the disability sector. We needed to go into their patch and find out what was important to them. We needed to understand how they operated. We needed to understand what it was like for people with lived experience of disability particularly those who require extra support to live an ordinary life so I took that by the horns and got involved in the disability sector as much as I could.
I became part of disability networks. I went to disability forums just like this one. Not disability forums about sport, but about what was important to them and our language changed, our conversation changed. We started talking about valued contribution and about the roles that people with a disability could have within sport that would actually provide that value of contribution back to the sport. Not what the sport could do for that person but what they could do for the sport and that really started to get people on board.
So our challenge now is to change the conversation at this level. We still need to talk about the whats and the hows, that’s very important and there are lots of people in this room working on things like that but we need to hold the why at the centre of our work. We need to invite the disability sector into what we do but we need to immerse ourselves in it as well so my challenge to you is to find opportunities for yourself, for you as an individual to do that, find opportunities for your organisation and those organisations that work within your structure to immerse themselves in local communities and find out what it’s like for the day in the life of a person with a disability.
We need to go one step further than that though. We need to make sure that we’re bringing people into the process, into this change process that we’re actually facilitating. Kelly Vincent who’s a South Australian MP, she speaks about reflective representation and she’s in fact one of the first people with a disability and I think the first to be elected to any parliament in Australia. She talks about the fact that it is important that we make sure that the communities that we’re working within and the workforces that we have reflect those communities so my other challenge to you is to actually have an attraction and recruitment strategy for your workforce, both your paid and your volunteer workforce. We need people with a disability to be in positions within our sport including on our leadership teams and our boards. We’ve seen the positive effect of a focus in this space on women in leadership. There has been a whole range of funding and initiatives to ensure that women are going up the chain and getting onto sports boards. Let’s make sure that we’re doing that for people with a disability as well.