Disability swim programs drowning

WA Swim Schools are calling for increased government funding to continue running disability swimming programs. Programs currently running at a loss will be cut without additional support.

Beatty Park Swim School is one of the few swim schools that runs a fully inclusive disability swimming program in Perth. The Angelfish program provides one-on-one support at the same cost to participants and times as mainstream classes.      

Beatty Park project coordinator Bev Christmass said the program was created to ensure children with disabilities had the same opportunities as other children.

She said it offered children with disabilities the chance to be integrated into mainstream classes with the level of support they needed.      

The program started in 2008 with a one-off $35,000 grant from Healthway. This support was instrumental in establishing the program, but only covered teachers’ wages and equipment for one year.

A green frog water slide aids in disabled swimmers.
Beatty Park’s iconic green frog. Photo: Charlotte Italiano CC-BY-SA.

Since then, The City of Vincent Council has financially supported the Angelfish program so it could continue without State government funding.          

While Department of Communities assistant director general Marion Hailes-McDonald said the McGowan Government supported the inclusion of people with disabilities in mainstream programs alongside other members of the community wherever possible, the program has not received any further state government support.  

Ms Hailes-McDonald also said the state government contributes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme which funds reasonable and necessary support for children with disabilities, including funding to help pay for swimming lessons.

While the NDIS funding can help families to pay for the lessons, Beatty Park can’t access it to support running the program because participants only pay the swim school a small fee, which doesn’t cover the program’s costs.   

Autism WA director of therapy and clinical services Tasha Alach said families were finding it difficult to access and fully understand the new NDIS disability insurance scheme, so Autism WA was helping families access what they are eligible for.    

Mrs Alach said children who have autism spectrum disorder often have difficulties with sensory processing and swimming helps them to be a lot calmer and allows them to socialise and develop.

She believes it’s awesome that swim schools are offering these services, as many families with a child with ASD find that mainstream swim services don’t cater to their children’s needs.          

Autism Swim is an international enterprise with experts specialising in wandering and drowning prevention. It said children with ASD are 160 times more likely to drown than children who don’t have the disorder. 

They found that children with ASD benefit massively from swimming lessons, as it helps create better social behaviour and is proven to be one of the most effective forms of therapy.

Beatty Park Swim School has applied for other grants and been unsuccessful. Mrs Christmass said: “The government is not providing enough funding to support the high demand for disability services in the community.”