On Disability and Inclusion in Sport

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Senator Hanson’s much publicized comments regarding children with disabilities at schools revealed an unhealthy, but unfortunately not uncommon level of ignorance as to the mutual benefits of a policy of inclusion.  As to the benefits of such a policy? We should know – it’s what we do.

Senator Pauline Hanson - By jfish92 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Senator Pauline Hanson – By jfish92 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

A Policy of Inclusion

While we are not, and do not wish to be, involved in politics at any level, Senator Hanson’s comments have started a broad discussion regarding the benefits of inclusion and division when it comes to addressing the needs of differently able children.  While we are not involved in the broad education sector, when it comes to sport, we have found (over our 10 years of experience) that a policy of inclusion provides significant benefits to all parties, regardless of their level of ability.

As we have stated previously, coaching para-rowers, for the most part, does not require any particular skills which are not already required for coaching any other rowers.  As with any athlete, you must adapt your style and methods to suit the strengths and weaknesses of whatever athletes are in your charge.  Just as in rugby league* you may have larger players or smaller players, those with good ball-handling skills or kicking ability to those who can put down an attacker and resolutely defend the line or seemingly float above, around, or through the line to score, so to do you have rowers with different levels of ability, regardless as to whether those abilities or characteristics are of the type which would lead to a classification enabling them to compete in para categories.

Para and Non-Para Rowers Competing and Winning together
Para and Non-Para Rowers Competing and Winning together

The Clear Benefits (to all)

The benefits for all involved are enormous.  Firstly, as rowers, an inclusive policy based on the mutual abilities of the rowers provides additional crew members, and allows each rower to learn from the respective strengths of each. As we have found out, our open squad has learned a great deal from our para representatives Kevin and Jeremy, while other members of the para-squad such as Ruby, Tahli and Nikolai have all benefited from racing in inclusive boats (one non-para and one para rower) in both summer and winter season events, allowing both rowers to develop their technique and race experience.

There is no question that, at times, each rower is providing assistance to the other.

Ultimately, Senator Hanson may be right, that at certain times, some rowers may be ‘held back,’ or may be required to assist others who are not as strong.  Ultimately, Senator Hanson may be right that it would be of benefit to provide separate sessions to address the particular needs of some rowers, who require them.  In fact, this is a key part of our program, to offer specialised training to rowers where it is needed.

However, where Senator Hanson is absolutely incorrect is in suggesting that any of this is a reason not to still fully include our rowers in the programs offered, and to ignore the huge benefits of an inclusive program to all parties.

Balmain Para-Rowing Program is proud of its work with both para athletes and able-bodied rowers, and is committed to continuing with an integrated rowing program together with the other squads at Balmain Rowing Club to provide the best possible training environment for para rowers. We are pleased to see the development of inclusive rowing events such as those at the JB Sharp Memorial Winter Regatta Series, the NSW State Championships, the Head of the Yarra and the Head of the Charles Regatta (spearheaded by our friends at Community Rowing Incorporated).

If Senator Hanson wishes, we’d be happy to discuss this further with her personally.

*(with apologies to the State of Origin – and Go the Blues for game 3)

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