Water activities, such as swimming, make an important contribution to the health and wellbeing of all people, including people with disabilities. However, due to discrimination through physical and attitudinal barriers, people with disabilities are often left out of water activities (Pearn & Franklin, 2013).
With the right support, everyone should be able to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of swimming. However, if you are disabled or have a pre-existing medical condition, it is important to consult your doctor about water safety and whether it is safe for you to undertake water-related activities.
All people have the right to enjoy the water and to do so safely. This includes people with mobility limitations, cognitive disabilities and sensory disabilities.
Aquatic activities offer a range of experiences and opportunities for people with disabilities that other sporting activities do not. These include:
- Relaxing in a stress-free, weightless environment
- Meeting and interacting with others in a non-threatening environment
- Exploring and experiencing a new and different movement
- Developing confidence
According to the Australian Governmental document Disability (Access to Premises—Buildings) Standards 2010, aquatic facilities are required to provide accessibility for people with disabilities in their communities.
There is limited published research regarding people with disabilities and water safety. However, there is an emerging research interest focused on water safety and people with epilepsy, and people with autism spectrum disorder.
Aquatics as a life-enriching experience can take many forms. The buoyancy of water and the sense of subjective weightlessness is enriching for children who are physically weak or paralyzed by neuromuscular disease. For others, the acquisition of swimming skills promotes a feeling of equality in those to whom equality of achievement is so often denied. (Pearn & Franklin, 2013)
Over half of all Autism Spectrum Disorder- (ASD-) related drownings occurred due to falls into water. Parents and caregivers of children with diagnosed ASD or with suspected ASD should be counselled on the increased risks of drowning and strategies to reduce risk. Strategies include active adult supervision and barriers to restricting access to the water. (Peden & Willcox-Pidgeon, 2020)