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Water sports are a great way to keep active and have fun. While some water sports may be inaccessible for people with disabilities, many of them can be adapted to be more inclusive. When necessary accommodations are provided, water-based sports can be among the best exercise options for people with disabilities. These are some of the best disability-friendly water sport options.
Swimming is a popular sport and a fantastic choice when it comes to building muscle strength and core stability. Swimming is ideal for people with disabilities that affect mobility because water buoyancy can help swimmers to move more easily, enabling them to take part in activities that may otherwise be difficult. It is widely considered one of the most disability-inclusive and easily adaptable sports. People with disabilities might begin swimming as part of hydrotherapy treatment, which is frequently used in rehabilitation programs, and some people take their swim skills all the way to the Paralympics. Most local pools and aquatic centres offer accommodations and options for people with disabilities and many are also equipped with warmer water hydrotherapy pools, which can usually be accessed with a doctor’s note.
There are a number of disability-focussed and inclusive sailing clubs in Australia. Sailability is a national program that works with local sailing clubs to provide additional support to assist sailers of all abilities. The program is run by volunteers in every Australian state. All participating clubs have a Sailability coordinator who oversees volunteer teams and is a point of contact for people hoping to become involved in the program. Equipment and assistance offered by Sailability include:
- Different types of boats provided by clubs, including the easy to sail Access Class
- Transfer equipment to assist sailors with limited mobility to get in and out of boats
- Instructors who are knowledgable about disability inclusion and who can adapt their teaching methods to suit individual abilities and needs
- Modified accessible docking areas
- Affordable participation options
- Competition and event opportunities
- The Sailing Pathway for people of all abilities to progress through
Surfing is an Aussie must-do, and luckily there are some brilliant options that make it possible for Australians who live with disabilities. The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia is an all-inclusive organisation working to bring the joy of surfing to people with disabilities across Australia and New Zealand. The volunteer-run organisation provides surf education, participation, and competition opportunities. Recently, it also partnered with wheelchair manufacturer Innovative Care Solutions to create a Surf-n-Turf all-terrain wheelchair. With interchangeable wheels, a transfer sling, excellent steering, and adjustable structure, the Surf-n-Turf wheelchair is the latest in beach wheelchairs and is a great step towards more inclusive beaches. The Disabled Surfers Association is a great first point of contact for those who want to learn to surf with a disability.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing and kayaking are fantastic water-based sports that can be enjoyed by people of all abilities. Both sports are highly adaptable and are low impact, making them a good choice for people who are new to water sports. Participants can take part individually or as part of team of up to four people. There are many canoe and kayak clubs around Australia for those who want to participate at a recreational level, and talented athletes can set their sights on the Paralympics; para-canoe is one of the newest additions to Paralympic sport.
Scuba diving is an amazing way to keep fit and enjoy the ocean! Disabled Divers International is a not-for-profit organisation aiming to provide disabled scuba diving training programs at an international level. The organisation works with existing dive schools, educating instructors on how to make diving more accessible for people with disabilities. Disabled Divers International emphasises the positive role of water weightlessness in helping people with disabilities to stay active. So far, the organisation has hosted Australian instructor training programs in Western Australia’s Busselton and New South Wales’ Sydney.
Water skiing is a lot of fun, and there are some brilliant disability-inclusive options in Australia. People with a range of physical and visual impairments can take part in adaptive water skiing. Disabled Water Ski Australia aims to provide sporting opportunities for members of the disability community. Para-athletes are welcomed to take part in competitions against able-bodied people and other people with disabilities. Disabled Water Ski Australia also sends a National Team to the World Disabled Water Skiing Championships, which are held every two years.
Aqua aerobics classes can help people with a wide range of disabilities to develop and maintain fitness, as the water can help to reduce the impact of mobility limitations. Water aerobics classes can be individually tailored and are offered regularly at many pools and aquatic centres all around the country. People with disabilities who will need additional supports or equipment can discuss their needs ahead of time with instructors and providers.
While in the past, kite-surfing has generally been considered an inaccessible sport, recent efforts have begun to improve the ways in which it can cater to people with disabilities. Some kite schools use modified seating equipment to help people with disabilities to participate in the sport. Tandem harnesses and wheelchair land-based trainer kites can also be used. In Australia, options for disability-friendly kit-surfing are still relatively limited, but overseas progress is promising, and kite-surfing may move into the mainstream as an accessible sport one day soon.
Water sports are great fun and a perfect activity choice for people with disabilities. There are plenty of ways to get involved and many physical, social, and emotional benefits!