I work for a global e–learning company Lumesse which has 73 offices spread around some 40 countries. It would be interesting for me to see what accessibility policies exist (I’ll search online) probably a nod in each case to national or regional policy and legislation.
Of greater interest and relevance and running in close parallel to education at all levels: primary, secondary and tertiary and beyond – is the policy for sports in the UK and for swimming in particular. (I’m familiar with Swimming Governing bodies in the US, France and Australia so could check these too).
As the ‘Swim21 co–ordinator’ for one of the largest swimming clubs in Southern England I compile a report with supporting evidence every four years to achieve various Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) national accreditations. This includes provision for disabled swimmers. The award is used as a management tool – the club is a limited company with over 1000 members, some 26 paid staff and 60+ volunteers.
Swim21 – which stands for ‘Swimming for the 21st century’, goes beyond national legislation regarding disability, equality and inclusion – so much so that it impinges on the Data Protection act – those party to the information we make available have a current CRB check and have signed various documents agreeing to abide by certain disclosure rules, an ethics policy and an equity in sport code of practice.
Educational institutions would benefit from taking a look at this – I can see that it would, if permitted, cover far more than they do or are prepared to do in Tertiary Education. Would they carry the cost, even the potential risk?
The Swim21 report is divided into three parts: Compliance, Athlete Development and Workforce Development. In each of these there are criteria the club must reach regarding disabled swimmers. I believe that most institutions – universities and businesses, tick boxes for compliance but fail to address the development of and support of their people – including disabled staff. There are notable corporate exceptions, but I can’t think of a university other than The OU that champions learning for disabled students … or provides so well for disabled staff (I worked on The OU campus for a year).
What I find interesting in relation to H810 and ASA policy is the close interplay between various apparently innocuous or tangential criteria that make what the club does such a success – in fact our club is a regional centre of excellence or ‘Beacon Club’ for disabled swimmers. It is this weave that integrates what we do that makes provision, and therefore access for disabled swimmers possible.
Crucial to this is a good working relationship with the pool operator, local schools for disabled students and a couple of champions who hold on tenaciously to what we can provide.
The relationship with the pool operator, meetings, adherence to their emergency and health and safety policies, provision of appropriate facilities and so on is a starting point. Tangential, but crucial to have in place. There has to be physical access for disabled athletes to changing rooms, toilets and the pool(s) with trained, sympathetic staff on hand.
The fundamental ingredient is what we call ‘water time’ – access to the pool or pools at times that suit the swimmers, rather than being marginalised to an evening slot on a Saturday or Sunday which is the policy in many pool operators when it comes to disabled swimmers. In relation to H810 then access to ‘air time’ is key, access to include the right, motivated, experienced and educated tutors, with appropriate resources – with access ring–fenced, protected and treasured.
Our disabled swimmers, themselves divided into two ability groups, have slots on a Saturday morning and a late afternoon/early evening on Wednesday. We integrate certain disabled swimmers into mainstream learn to swim and teenage swim groups and when they come along or develop would include them in squad sessions too. Here too Tertiary Education needs to understand the need not only for total, or part time integration, but also the provision for full or part time specialist, niche provision. This is provided by and should be informed by national organisations for sight, hearing, physical and learning impairments.
Provision for disabled swimmers is ASA Swim21 policy and includes: self–assessment on the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), attendance by coaches on an ASA approved Disability Awareness Course and partnership with local disability organisations.
Supporting this, coach/athlete ratios are moderated to match the needs of the swimmer with 1:1 for some disabled swimmers, even 1:2 or 1:3 at times. We have to declare these ratios and demonstrate that they meet criteria by swimming level, age group and disability. There is a club Child Protection Policy and Equity Policy, and coaches agree to abide by a Code of Ethics – these embrace all swimmers.
In relation to H810, and where Tertiary Education might learn something – we maintain a record of club personnel which includes CRB and current relevant qualifications, as well as safeguarding and protecting children training. Most significantly with membership we capture medical conditions of all participants, disability information and emergency contact information. Teachers and coaches, on a need to know basis, have this information too (though it is wrapped in a data protection statement). We attend ASA approved workshops on Swimming for Disabled Athletes. All members, which includes parents and other volunteers, agree to a code of conduct. Anyone working with or likely to work with children have a current CRB check whilst every three years the club puts on a Child Protection Workshop which includes working with vulnerable and disabled swimmers. This is now supplemented by several ASA e–learning modules that include niche topics on coaching swimmers with visual impairment, physical disabilities, learning difficulties and/or behavioural issues.
The note on a swimmer is vital to a teacher or coach – just a line or two and we can seek further advice and of course speak to the swimmer themselves leading to conversations on what they want to do and where they have problems to overcome. We improvise, compromise and accommodate. The context poolside is of course very different to e–learning if we think of e–learning as distance or independent learning, however, if we think of it as social learning online and do more supported synchronous and quasi–synchronous learning, then there are close parallels. The mistake is to think of e–learning purely in terms of ways to get 1,000 people a year through the same induction process or 2,000 through the same postgraduate module – wherein lies the importance of access to and the engagement of the tutor, and other people in support. People create access, improvise, accommodate difference, find ways around barriers … and come to understand one person to another, what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Reflecting on this, there is another vital component – we very often know the disabled swimmer from age 9 or 10 into their late teens – volunteers who work in specialist schools may well have known the swimmer for even longer. Some stay on to swim as adults. Given that there are so many kinds of disability and such a spectrum for each, this knowledge is vital. For example, it helps to know that a swimmer who is barely able to walk can, with assistance, balance on a starting block long enough to start a race. I’m starting to wonder where the equivalents exist in higher education and for e–learning in particular – perhaps this same swimmer using a specialist keyboard to be as active on social networks online as anyone else, not quite an avatar, but as ‘free in the airwaves’ online as they are in the swimming pool.