Disability inclusion program levels footy playing field

D’Arne Finnis was afraid her child could never play footy because of barriers around his disability, but that’s changing thanks to an initiative by the AFL.

“I felt as a parent, if I put him in that environment it wouldn’t have been as positive an experience as what it would be now with the resources that are available to clubs,” she told AAP.

“I didn’t think anyone would know how to provide the right type of support.”

Her child finally learned how to kick a footy in 2013, when the first iteration of a disability inclusion resource suite rolled out at their local club.

The AllPlay Footy initiative was developed by Deakin and Monash University researchers with the AFL to destigmatise the participation of children who experience developmental challenges or disability.

Ten years down the line, the resource suite has expanded to include tools, strategies, practical tips and a coaching course – all developed in consultation with the disability community.

“Most clubs have volunteers and they don’t know what they don’t know,” Ms Finnis said.

“So AllPlay Footy is a wonderful resource that’s filling out a really vital gap around upskilling.

“Clubs can actually understand how to include and support and coach children of all abilities.”

Lacking the skills to support children with disabilities is just some of the barriers families and children face.

Lead researcher and clinical psychologist Nicole Rinehart says the first barrier when the program began was enrolling.

“Back when we started 10 years ago, there was no way you could tell the coaches about your child’s disability,” she told AAP.

“So from that moment, it just strikes terror in the heart of parents because they think ‘How do I communicate something that is silent and complex?’

“For some families, that barrier right there is insurmountable – it’s too much and they don’t go all the way through to actually getting to participate.

“The short answer is: if your child doesn’t have a disability you register, jump in the car and turn up.

“If your child has a disability, there are 100 barriers you have to overcome.”

The initiative was born out of Prof Rinehart’s observation that young people with neurodevelopmental disorders were not engaging in and benefiting from community sports.

One in five children experience developmental challenges or disability in Australia but access and participation barriers often mean that children with disability are less likely to be involved.

Prof Rinehart said the initiative’s success was its consultation with the disability community right from the start.

“We’re about making the world fit for all kids, not just for some of them.,” Prof Rinehart said.

“I get a bit emotional when I think about this.

“Ten years ago, I never had a family in my practice come to me to say, ‘We want to go play Auskick’.

“Now, when kids come to the clinic, I sit down with parents and for the first time they’re gonna play footy.”

Clubs, coaches and parents can access AllPlay Footy on the play.afl website.


Joanna Guelas
(Australian Associated Press)


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