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> Inclusion in Sport

Inclusion of people with disability is about providing a wide range of options

Being inclusive is about providing a range of options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, in the most appropriate manner possible. Inclusion encompasses a broad range of options in many different settings.

The inclusion spectrum

A common misconception about inclusion is that it is solely about including people with disability in regular sport activities without any modification. Inclusion encompasses many different options in different settings. Inclusion in sport can be viewed in terms of a spectrum. Each section of the spectrum is as important as the next, and ideally there would be programs for people with disability available in all sections to choose from.


Examples of the inclusion spectrum

  • No modifications: an athlete with an intellectual disability may train and compete with athletes without intellectual disability at a local swimming club
  • Minor modifications: a vision impaired tenpin bowler using a rail for support
  • Major modifications: a seated shot-putter competing under separate rules using modify ed equipment against other athletes with disability in an integrated track and field competition
  • Primarily for people with disability: athletes with disability and their able-bodied peers combine to form teams for the purpose of developing a wheelchair basketball competition
  • Only for people with disability: goal ball players participating in a competition exclusively for people with vision impairments
  • Non-playing role: people with disability can be officials, coaches, club presidents, volunteers and spectators.

The following factors will influence the section/s of the spectrum an individual chooses to participate in:

  • their functional ability
  • the sport in which they are participating
  • the opportunities within their local environment
  • their personal preferences.

The inclusion spectrum allows games and activities to be delivered in different ways, with more options. The aim is to encourage higher quality participation by people with disability, both with or away from their able-bodied peers. Clubs can provide a range of options by adapting and modifying their sport in different environments.

> Adapting and Modifying for People with Disability - Part One

Including and challenging everyone while maintaining the integrity of the activity
How do you adapt or modify sport?

Being inclusive is about providing a range of options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the most appropriate manner possible. Inclusion encompasses a broad range of options in many different settings. Sometimes this may mean modifying a sport to provide a more appropriate version for particular participants.

Modifying the rules or even the competition structure of a sport is nothing new. Most national sporting organisations in Australia provide modified versions of sports for their junior program, making the sport more inclusive, safe and fun for younger players (For example, Basketball Australia’s Aussie Hoops and AFL’s Auskick).

Modifying sport to include people with disability is no different. In some situations, people with disability can be included with no modifications at all, and in other situations modifications may be needed. Modifications may only be minor, such as a change in a rule or piece of equipment which is straightforward, yet may provide significant assistance to an individual. Sometimes major modifications are necessary, particularly for people with high support needs. Rather than modify the game’s rules or equipment for everybody just to include one person, it may only require a change for that person and depending on the extent of the change, it can either be done on the spot or require extensive planning.

The purpose of adapting and modifying sport is to minimise or eliminate disadvantage caused by the environment in which a sport is played. This strategy also enables new rules and equipment to be introduced as players mature and their skills improve. All modifications should be continually reviewed and, if appropriate, phased out over time. However, some modifications may become accepted as part of the regular program, making a program that is suitable for all abilities, such as the modified junior sport programs.

The TREE model

The TREE model is a practical tool designed to help you modify your activities or programs. There are four essential elements of an activity that can be modified to make it more inclusive.

Teaching style

Teaching style

Teaching style refers to the way the sport or activity is communicated to the participants. The way an activity is delivered can have a significant impact on how inclusive it is. Strategies you may use include:

  • being aware of all the participants in your group
  • ensuring participants are correctly positioned (for example, within visual range)
  • using appropriate language for the group
  • using visual aids and demonstrations
  • using a buddy system
  • using appropriate physical assistance — guide a participant’s body parts through a movement
  • keeping instructions short and to the point
  • checking for understanding.


Rules may be simplified or changed and then reintroduced as skill levels increase. Strategies you may use include:

  • allowing for more bounces in a game such as tennis or table tennis
  • allowing for multiple hits in a sport such as volleyball
  • having a greater number of players on a team to reduce the amount of activity required by each player
  • reducing the amount of players to allow greater freedom of movement
  • regularly substituting players
  • allowing substitute runners in sports such as softball and cricket or shortening the distance the hitter needs to run to be safe
  • reducing or extending the time to perform actions
  • allowing different point scoring systems
  • varying passing styles: try bouncing, rolling or underarm toss, instead of overarm throw
  • reducing competitive elements.


Strategies you may use include:

  • using lighter bats or racquets and/or shorter handles
  • using lighter, bigger and/or slower bouncing balls, or balls with bells inside
  • using equipment that contrasts with the playing area — white markers on grass, fluorescent balls.


Strategies you may use include:

  • reducing the size of the court or playing area
  • using a smooth or indoor surface rather than grass
  • lowering net heights in sports such as volleyball or tennis
  • using zones within the playing area
  • minimising distractions in the surrounding area.

Things to consider

  • Changes do not have to be permanent — some may be phased out over time as skills and confidence increase
  • Try as much as possible to include all the members of your group in the game. Be conscious of keeping all participants challenged.
  • Engage individuals in modifying the activities when appropriate, as they will be your best source of solutions
  • It may not be necessary to modify the game’s rules or equipment for everybody just to include one person, it may only require a change for that one person
  • There are situations where including everybody all the time may not be possible. Safety considerations are always a priority for each individual and the entire group. Use your common sense.
  • Always maintain the integrity of the game — do not modify a game so much that it no longer resembles the game you were playing at the outset

> Adapting and Modifying for People with Disability - Part Two

Including and challenging everyone while maintaining the integrity of the activity

Golden rule of inclusion

When adapting and modifying any activity or program it is important that the teacher, coach or sport deliverer ensures fair participation for people with and without disability. Balance needs to be maintained between maximising each person’s potential for involvement and success, and maintaining the integrity of the activity. This means just enough changes should be made to an activity so that it is meaningful and challenging for the entire group, but not so many that the specific skills required for the activity are under-utilised. It may not be necessary to modify the game’s rules or equipment for everybody just to include one person; it may only require a change for that person.

The balancing act

Maintain the integrity of the activity = Maximise individual potential

How to maintain the integrity of the activity

Know the goals of the program

  • Know which skills, or aspects, of the activity are important for everyone
  • Know where you can be flexible in your activity/program

Keep the goals of the activity/program in mind when making modifications

  • Be flexible and not afraid to modify within these boundaries
  • Provide alternatives for people with disability, if needed
  • Question any modifications (for example, will the integrity of the activity be affected if the type of bat is changed, a zoning rule is introduced, or a new sport replaces a ‘traditional’ one?)

Challenge all participants

  • Could modifications help able-bodied athletes, as well as athletes with disability, to participate more fully and achieve
    greater success?
  • Introduce new activities and/or think of different ways to do the same activity that can challenge all participants.
Encourage participants to value difference
  • Encourage all participants to experiment with different equipment and rules to find what suits them best
  • Encourage participants to make changes to the rules to facilitate meaningful participation for all

Things to consider

  • Changes do not have to be permanent. Some may be phased out over time as skills and confidence increase
  • Try as much as possible to include all the members of your group in the game. Be conscious of keeping all participants challenged
  • Engage individuals in modifying the activities, when appropriate, as they will be your best source of solutions
  • It may not be necessary to modify the game’s rules or equipment for everybody just to include one person, it may only require a change for that one person.
  • There are situations where including everybody all the time may not be possible. Safety considerations are always a priority for each individual and the entire group. Use your common sense
  • Always maintain the integrity of the game: do not modify a game so much that it no longer resembles the game you were playing at the outset

> Creating a Positive Environment and Communicating Effectively with People with Disability

Creating a positive environment and communicating in an effective way is crucial to successfully including people with disability in sport and active recreation


It is widely recognised that people with disability face disadvantages in life. Although they may experience physical barriers, often these disadvantages can be linked to other people’s negative or poor attitude to disability. These attitudes are often based on a lack of experience, education and understanding. Attitudes are reflected in how a person
acts, responds and behaves around someone with disability. Concentrating on what a person with disability cannot do perpetuates a negative attitude.

When coaching athletes with disability it is essential to concentrate on what they can do rather than what they can’t. It is also important to note that a pitying ‘poor you’ attitude can be just as harmful to an athlete with disability.

By understanding why some people have negative attitudes and learning how to positively influence them, positive change can start to occur. Rather than asking ‘Why should I include?’ you should ask, ‘How can I include?’


Language is a critical part of how beliefs and perspectives of individuals and societies are formed. It can be a reflection of a culture’s thoughts, feelings and concepts. Certain words, as a result of cultural custom, degrade and diminish people with disability. Often the language used to refer to people with disability has been negative, judgmental and
couched in medical jargon.

While there are no hard and fast rules about what should and should not be said when referring to people with disability, there are a few accepted terms that can help to break down some of the social stigmas associated with disability.

It is appropriate, as a general rule, to use the words and expressions that put a person ahead of their disability. ‘People with disability’ is the approved term used in Australia. It is important that the words you use imply dignity and do not categorise people because of their impairment. Also, it is suggested that disability is only mentioned if it is necessary in the context of the conversation.

Words to watch for and/or avoid Acceptable Alternatives
Abnormal, subnormal - negative terms that imply failure to function 'normally' Specify the disability
Cripple, crippled - these terms convey an image of an ugly and twisted body A physical disability or a mobility disability
Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound, a wheelchair provides mobility not restriction Uses a wheelchair or a wheelchair user
Afflicted with or suffering from - most people with disability do not see themselves as afflicted or suffering The person has (specify the disability)
Mentally retarded, defective, feeble minded, moron, retarded - offensive and inaccurate Person with an intellectual disability or person with a learning disability
Defective, deformed - degrading terms Specify the disability
The blind Person who is blind or person with a vision impairment
Mongol - outdated and derogatory Person with Down syndrome
Spastic - offensive and inaccurate term used (most often) in reference to a person with cerebral palsy Person with disability
Invalid Person with disability
The deaf (community) Acceptable in terms of the community
The deaf (individual person) Person who is deaf
Insane, lunatic, maniac, mental patient, neurotic, psycho person with a psychiatric disability or person with a mental illness or person with (specify the condition)

 Communicating with people with disability

Communicating with people with disability is no different to communicating with people without disability. The most important thing is the ability to listen to an individual’s needs and not prejudge their requirements. There are no hard and fast rules when
talking about disability.

General tips

  • Speak to the person in an age-appropriate manner. For example, if the person is an adult, speak to them using the same tone you would use when normally addressing an adult.
  • Speak to the person, not their coach, friend or assistant. Assume that people can speak for themselves.
  • If you want to know what help or assistance a person with disability needs, ask them! They are best qualified to tell you. If they can manage by themselves, they will soon let you know.

Non-verbal communication

  • Remember, people with disability may not always communicate using speech. Some people write messages and/or use
    computerised systems, symbols, sign language, gestures and eye movements.
  • Approach the individual — they will guide you if they use a non-verbal form of communication. Just be willing to try.
  • Watch a person’s body language and try to respond to any non-verbal cues.
  • Begin and end conversations just as you would with anyone else.
  • Use all of your communication skills — visual and verbal — and back these up with positive body language and facial expressions. A smile relaxes both you and the person with whom you are communicating.

People using a wheelchair

  • When talking to a person in a wheelchair, try to be at eye level with them by sitting in a chair or squatting or kneeling beside them.
  • Remember that a person’s wheelchair is considered part of their personal space. Do not touch or lean on their chair unless invited to do so.

People with a vision impairment

  • When meeting people who are blind or have a vision impairment, address them by name and always give your name.
  • When talking in groups address people by name.
  • Ask them how much they can see. Many people with a vision impairment have a degree of vision — only a small minority are totally blind. Standing in a particular position (for example, directly in front of them or to one side) may suit their visual range and/or acuity.
  • If you are giving directions, visual instructions supported by clear verbal information may be useful. Don’t talk about ‘here’ and ‘there’.
  • If a person with a vision impairment requests manual guidance, wait for them to take your arm or elbow and then walk beside them but slightly in front, so they can sense changes in direction. As you move, give verbal information about the surface you are walking on (for example, steps or slopes, gaps or doors) ensuring that the person you are assisting has time to react to the changes.
  • Do not move objects without telling the person

People with a hearing impairment

  • Communication with a person with a hearing impairment will be enhanced if you
    ensure that you are standing where they can clearly see your face. This will help if they use lip-reading to support their communication. Avoid standing with the sun or a bright light behind you; it throws your face into shadow.
  • Speak clearly without shouting and with normal inflection.
  • Attract the person’s attention before speaking to them or else they may not realise you are talking to them. A tap on their shoulder from the front or a wave in their peripheral vision is acceptable.
  • Be prepared to move to a quieter location if the person with whom you are
    communicating has trouble hearing or understanding you.

People with a learning disability

  • When talking to a person who has a learning disability, keep your explanations brief and clear and check that they have understood what you have told them. There are many different kinds of learning disability and each person’s degree of
    comprehension will vary greatly.
  • Talk to people using age-appropriate tone of voice and language. Simplifying the language you use does not necessarily mean treating adults like children. Use short and simple sentence structure.
  • Communication is a two-way street: be patient and give people the opportunity to explain what information or assistance they require, and keep in mind that some people may need more time to express themselves.
  • Ask the person to repeat themselves if you do not understand. Do not guess; it is more embarrassing when you get it wrong.
  • Use all of your communication skills — visual and verbal — and back these up with positive body and facial expressions. A smile relaxes both you and the person with whom you are communicating.

> Classficiation in Sport for People with Disability

Classification exists to provide a structure for competition among athletes with different kinds and degrees of disability

What is classification?

Forms of classification are used all the time within sport (for example, gender, age and weight).

The golf handicapping system is a good example of how players can be grouped based on ability, thereby allowing players of varying ability to compete against one another. In this sense classification is geared to allow a greater number of people to take part. Classification is also used to create a structure for competition between athletes with disability and is no different in this respect: it is simply the process of putting athletes into groups for the purposes of competition.

Just as gender classification is used to minimise the effect gender has on competition, disability classification is used to minimise the effect that disability has on competition. All Paralympic sports use classification and a growing number of non-Paralympic sports are developing classification systems to give people with disability the option of competing in a greater variety of sports.

Creating a structure for competition

It is sometimes said that classification in sport for people with disability is to ensure fair competition and to create a level playing field. In modern sport for people with disability, this is no longer the case. Completely equal competition cannot exist as there will always be a range of abilities (both within sport for people with disability and sport for people without disability). Rather, the classification system exists to minimise the effect an individual’s impairment has on the outcome of competitions. The impairment should not be a determining factor in performance (for example, that someone uses a wheelchair or has a vision impairment). It should be their training, motivation, strength and timing.

Competition is more meaningful and enjoyable when it is close, and this is the aim of classification. While not every game can be competitive, the goal is to ensure that disability does not have a bearing on this.

Who are classifiers?

Classifiers are people who determine the class an athlete should be in. They are trained officials who are able to apply the guidelines and processes of classification on a sport-by-sport basis. Classifiers come from a range of backgrounds but, generally speaking, they will either have medical experience (for example, doctors or physiotherapists) or will be technical experts within their sport (for example, coaches or ex-athletes).

Classification is not just an international competition issue. It is also applicable to national, state and local-level competitions. However, if an athlete wants to compete at international level they must be classified under the international sports federations’
classification system. It is crucial for athletes, coaches, teachers, parents and anyone with an involvement in sport for people with disability to know about classification. Needless to say, the role of the classifier is vitally important.

What are the systems used for?

Early forms of classification were based on grouping people together who had the same or similar impairments. In recent years classification systems have become more sport specific, grouping competitors based on their functional ability to do a sport. There are exceptions to this (for example, athletes who are vision impaired only go through an eye test).

Classification groupings also vary between sports. An athlete who has a single leg amputation will be classified in different groups for swimming and for athletics.
There are other systems used to classify athletes with disability that are based on factors such as time, average score or IQ. The Special Olympics ‘divisioning’ system groups competitors by age, gender and ability. It is designed to create opportunities for the greatest number of people though a competitive and meaningful system, similar to golf handicapping.

How are people classified?

Classification is a way of providing a structure through which people with disability can compete against their peers. It aims to minimise the effect of impairment on the outcome of competition and works best when it is sport specific.

Functional classification involves a series of tests carried out by classifiers to establish that an athlete meets the necessary criteria. This includes:

  • assessing the minimum impairment — is the athlete actually eligible for disability sport?
  • observing the athlete as they participate in their sport in order to establish the optimum classification group to compete in
  • the Australian Paralympic Committee, which works with the national sporting organisations responsible for the training of classifiers in Australia.

The classification process can often be controversial. Athletes will want to be in the class that gives them the best chance of winning, and classifiers have to take into account factors such as the effects of training on athletes’ impairments, to ensure
that the athletes are treated fairly.

> Disability Discrimination Act

The Disability Discrimination Act exists to ensure equal opportunity in sport and recreation

Disability Discrimination Act 1992

People with disability and their families may experience discrimination and exclusion on a daily basis. This is why the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) was created with the essential purpose of promoting equal opportunity, nothing more and nothing less. The DDA was designed around common sense so that the legislation should not be a burden for organisations that are really looking for continuous improvement.

The DDA makes harassment in relation to disability unlawful. Furthermore, Section 36 of the DDA prohibits harassment of parents and carers of people with disability, particularly when they act as advocates on behalf of people with disability. It is the responsibility of each person to ensure that they are up to date and comply with current legislation. It is irrelevant whether a club, association or organisation means to discriminate — ignorance is not an excuse.

What the Disability Discrimination Act means

The DDA legislation is all about common sense. As the issue of participation is based on skills and abilities, if the skill level of a person with disability is below the skill level of others in the same activity, it is not discriminatory to exclude them from that activity. Similarly, it is not discriminatory to disallow a person in a wheelchair from playing A-grade volleyball if they are not able to match the skills of their peers. One of the most common misconceptions regarding the DDA is that all people with disability must be included in all activities all of the time. This is not what the legislation was designed for and would not assist anyone.

In terms of discrimination, the DDA recognises direct and indirect forms:

  • Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably because of their disability. For example, Damien’s teacher arranges a school sports camp, but tells Damien he will not be allowed to go because he has epilepsy and needs medication at night.
  • Indirect discrimination occurs when physical barriers, policy, procedure, practices or a selection/admission criterion prevents a person with disability from having the same opportunities as others. For example, Lesley and Shirley are members of a local tennis club. Lesley’s club wants to play competitively and applies to join the local tennis league. The tennis association has a rule that each club member must play ‘in the normal way’. Shirley uses a wheelchair to get around and is a proficient wheelchair player. Lesley is told that her club cannot join the league because Shirley cannot play ‘in the normal way’.

Vicarious liability

The DDA operates vicariously. This means an association, club or organisation can be held responsible for acts of discrimination by its coaches, members, employees, officials and administrators, unless it can demonstrate that it has taken reasonable precautions to prevent discriminatory action. An example of reasonable precautions is that an organisation has an anti-harassment policy and training in place for all concerned. Note that employees do not have to be paid by an organisation to be considered in an employment relationship with that organisation. Individuals, such as volunteers, only
need to be viewed as being in a relationship with a club or association to be considered under vicarious liability.

Exceptions and unjustifiable hardships

The DDA does not apply in every possible circumstance and clubs and associations can be exempt in certain circumstances. Unjustifiable financial hardship is an issue addressed in the Act that allows for exemption (for example, it may be unjustifiable to expect a club with few members and little money to spend $20 000 on renovations to cater for one person who wants to play a sport socially). To be considered financially unjustifiable, organisations must be able to prove that the requested adjustments cause sufficient hardship to the organisation and/or other members.


In the DDA, discrimination is linked to harassment and includes behaviour that:

  • offends (for example, interfering with a disability aid, putting things in front of a person with a vision impairment, etc.)
  • humiliates (for example, asking a student with a vision impairment to describe a painting)
  • intimidates (for example, being insulting to a person about their disability)
  • creates a hostile environment (for example, mimicking a person with disability, telling insensitive jokes about disability).

Access and attitudes

DDA also covers the use of goods, services and facilities. Some organisations use the fact that they may have only a few steps and inaccessible toilets as an excuse to not cater for people with disability. This is no excuse and, more than ever before, organisations and facilities can get assistance (including financial support) from either their state department of sport and recreation and/or local council to improve access for people with disability.

One of the most common misconceptions is that access for people with disability is all about ramps and accessible toilets.

People working in the area know that this is not the case. An organisation or facility can have the most accessible building, but may employ staff with a terrible attitude towards people with disability — thus creating greater barriers than steps.

Generally, people with disability are creative and are used to inaccessibility and can, if they are made to feel welcome, often overcome the problem of physical access that is less than ideal.

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