Everyone Can Play – including kids of all abilities in playgrounds and sport

Everyone Can Play – including kids of all abilities in playgrounds and sport

Episode 68: Everyone Can Play – including kids with disability in playgrounds and sport

Released: September 2016

In this ABC Radio broadcast a range of experienced practitioners and academics explore how kids with disabilities can be included in playground and sport settings. Some great tips and insights.

Partners: Ellen Fanning (ABC Life Matters), Justine Perkins (Touched by Olivier), Dr Simon Darcy (University of Technology, Sydney) and Jose Bello (Soccajoeys Foundation)

The Paralympic Games generated a lot of interest for disability sport. This was not limited to elite sport but also to articles and discussions about inclusion more broadly. This was great!

ABC Radio broadcaster Ellen Fanning  in Australia runs an excellent series called Life Matters that delves into what makes humans tick. Life, but not always as you know it. In this broadcast Ellen explored the inclusion of young kids with disabilities in playgrounds and sport.

The two programs discussed in this broadcast are both really worth checking out. Touched by Olivier is Australia’s only organisation focused on the creation of inclusive playspaces in partnership with communities, governments and businesses. Check them out on their website as they do some fantastic work and are looking to expand across the country. Another excellent program is Next Step, run by Jose Bello from Soccajoeys Foundation. We spoke to Jose and discussed Next Step in episode 54.

So, sit back, and enjoy the discussion on inclusive playgrounds and sport.



About the author: Ellen Fanning

About the author: Ellen Fanning


Ellen Fanning is an award winning public affairs broadcaster and journalist. She spent the first ten years of her career at the ABC where she presented both the AM and PM current affairs radio programs. She also served as the ABC’s Washington correspondent. She was later a reporter on the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes and the last presenter of Nine’s prestigious Sunday program. She has produced award-winning documentaries and was most recently the presenter of SBS TV’s long form interview series, The Observer Effect.

How the Paralympics changed my life

How the Paralympics changed my life

Episode 67: How the Paralympics changed my life

Released: September 2016

Richard Nicholson has experienced first hand the evolution of the Paralympics, and with it, the shift in perception of disabilities and para-athletes. This is his story.

Partners: Richard Nicholson

I lost the use of my legs at age four through illness. There are family photos of me walking around as a toddler, but it was so long ago I can’t remember it now. So perhaps it is like the old saying that “you can’t miss what you never had”.

While I was examined by myriad health professionals, there was no clear explanation as to why I had lost the feeling and use of my lower limbs. Eventually the feeling returned but I have never gained any substantial muscle in my legs. A medical mystery in 1974! Since then I have required crutches or a wheelchair to get around.

Growing up I was lucky that I never felt any jealousy or resentment of my able-bodied friends but I did often feel very frustrated. Deep down I knew it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t walk or run, so I think I just accepted that fact and got on with my life.

I suppose at an early age I learnt two simple rules.

One is that life’s not always easy. And the second, in the words of some great 20th century philosophers – The Rolling Stones –

you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.

I feel this has been very true for me.

A very active child, I would give everything a go, often against the requests and sometimes pleas of my parents and teachers. Sometimes I would fail, we all do. However, I’m sure by simply having a go I quickly earned the respect of my peers and have never been short of friends.

At age seven, my parents bought me a skateboard. For years I wore the prints off my fingertips, following my friends around the Canberra suburbs on that skateboard. I’d come home missing bark off my elbows and knees and plenty of times my parents must have asked themselves why they’d even bought it.

I loved my skateboard; it gave me independence. Skinned knees and elbows taught me valuable lessons: if you have a buster, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again.


My sporting journey began in 1982 at age 12 in archery. Less than a year later, on the suggestion of a high school PE teacher, Max Green, I began training and competing in mainstream gymnastics.

I met gymnastics coach Chris Timpson at my first competition. That was a watershed moment in my life. Chris lit a spark in me, a love for sport that still burns today.

I trained, competed and eventually coached gymnastics for the next six years. I was competing against able-bodied athletes and I was forced to land on my knees. As this constitutes a “fall”, my routines were always marked down accordingly.

Unfortunately, the better I became on the apparatus the less competitive I became overall, as the penalty for landing on my knees was far too much to give away. So my gymnastics career finished at age 18, at which point I was spending more time coaching than training.

During this period I reinforced my passion for sport and developed some physical and psychological attributes that laid the foundations for an elite sporting career.

I was nearly 24 when I finally found my way to disability-specific sport. My first sport was powerlifting. I was well suited to this, with very thin legs and a well developed upper body, which gave me a great power-to-weight ratio.

I made my Paralympic debut at Atlanta in 1996, but Sydney 2000 was the highlight. Weighing 58.1 kg, I bench-pressed 175kg. It was a personal best, a new national record for the 60kg division, and the first ever triple my bodyweight bench-press for an Australian. I was lucky enough to win the silver medal on that day.

Standing on the podium I wasn’t actually thinking “wow! I’m number 2 in the world”. I realised that this was just the culmination of many years of dedication, some compromise and, most of all, hard work. It justified all the decisions I had to make to get there.

In 2002, I competed in the Manchester Commonwealth Games where I also won a silver medal. Then a couple of months later I competed in my final international powerlifting competition at the World Championships in Malayasia.

I placed a very close fourth. At that time I felt that a number of athletes and countries were not “playing within the rules”. So I decided to transfer sports to track and road racing in search of more opportunities to compete and a more level playing field. I was a sprinter at first, but slowly transitioned into more middle-distance events.

I also made this decision to change sports because I never want to stop challenging myself. Motivation for me is about putting your front wheel on the start line against the best in the world and giving it a red hot crack.

So if I didn’t qualify for the 2004 Athens Paralympics for some reason, at least I would know I wasn’t good enough and won’t live my life wondering “what if?” I’ll know 100% as a wheelchair racer I make a bloody great weightlifter!

As American football player Preston Pearson is reputed as saying, “anyone can stand tall on the high peaks. It is the people who survive the valleys between the peaks who will emerge the strongest”.

A highlight was the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA

The Paralympic journey

My fist Paralympic games was in Atlanta in 1996. I was 26 years old, and I had some previous international competition experience in New Zealand, Noumea, Netherlands and Belgium national championships. But the Paralympics is another level altogether.

While driving into the Olympic/Paralympic village for the first time, my excitement quickly turned to dismay. There were workman everywhere literally dismantling large parts of the village; all the “good parts”, as it were.

The 1996 Olympic Games were largely funded through commercial sponsors and many of these withdrew their support for the Paralympics. This left a significant hole in the budget to deliver the games. Last minute philanthropic donations literally saved the 1996 Paralympics.

Having just watched the Atlanta Olympic Games on TV (although plagued with their own logistical problems, especially transport issues) I felt the Paralympic Games were now seen as more of an obligation, something that had to be delivered, rather than a celebration of sporting excellence and human triumph.

The volunteers – the heart and soul of any games – were fantastic in spite of clear shortfalls, and made our stay and competition experiences the best they could be.

Logistical problems aside, the games finished with Australia placing second on the medal table behind the United States with (now Paralympic legend) Louise Sauvage’s outstanding performances winning four golds including the 400m, 800m, 1,500m and 5,000m).

My competition in the 56kg division in the men’s powerlifting was not quite so fruitful. I was successful in just one of my three lifts and finished with 145.0kg, 7.5 kg’s below my (then) best and placing 8th on the day.

On reflection, this was probably a fair result. Physically I was well prepared but psychologically I was not in the elite athlete “ballpark”. I could have placed 4th had I lifted at my previous best.

Luckily, I have found disappointing results to be highly motivating, and after returning from Atlanta, with the next games to be held in Sydney, I knew I had to a lot of work to do both in and out of the gym.

The luxury of being an athlete and having a home Games is something I feel very privileged to have experienced. Thinking about marching into the Olympic Stadium on the October 18, 2000 with my fellow team members (285 athletes and 148 officials) with Midnight Oil blaring from the speakers and 110,000-strong crowd cheering us on still gives me goose bumps.

The Sydney Games provided many highlights for me. This included winning my silver medal and sharing that experience with my family and friends, some of whom I had not seen in 15 years since high school, but who had somehow managed to be there on that day to see me compete!

An unexpected highlight came while I was walking through Olympic park during the games on my way to watch some athletics when a small boy holding his mum’s hand and pointing at me with the other said “I wonder what sport that man plays”.

This remains one of my most memorable moments from those Games, as for the previous 26 years inquisitive young minds would generally say “what’s wrong with that man mummy” or “why does he have those” (pointing to my crutches). This very young man changed my understanding of sport for people with disability and my role within it.

No longer was my involvement in sport simply about results and challenging myself but my role was also to promote sport as a vehicle for greater social inclusion and understanding disability.

I realised sport has the ability to change the perception of the community about people with a disability and, more importantly, how people with a disability think and feel about themselves.

For individuals, sport can build self-belief, confidence, a feeling of success and achievement, and provide a sense of future and reengage those who are most isolated and disconnected from the community.

Sport can help reduce stigma and challenge communities’ expectations of those with a disability. I have been lucky enough to be part of the Paralympic movement for more than 20 years now and seen not only the games evolve in size and prestige, but more importantly the attitude and acceptance of the athletes change over that time.

The Paralympics evolves

Sydney’s successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games created a blueprint that has essentially been moulded to fit each new host city and culture. In some instances this blueprint has been significantly improved on at successive Games through to London, which was my last games.

The increase in media coverage at the Sydney Paralympics via 2 x 1 hour highlights packages per day by the ABC saw an almost meteoric rise in profile of Australia’s Paralympic athletes during and after the Games.

Athletes’ results and stories were featured in Australia’s leading newspapers and the Australian public seemed to embrace the athletes and the stories behind their results.

The 2004 Athens Paralympics was a great experience hosted in the spiritual home of the Olympic Games. Australia finished 5th on the medal table, with my contribution being a silver medal as part of the 4 x 100m relay team, finishing just behind Thailand in 0.12 of a second and inside the previous world record.

This Games heralded the emergence of Kurt Fearnley as the man to beat. He won the 5,000m, was a member of the 4 x 100m relay team and won the wheelchair marathon by over four minutes in a time of 1:25.37. With a determination to win that race so strong that he was grinding his teeth while climbing a steep hill and he cracked one of them!

By the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games the funding and services provided to the Paralympic athletes via the Australian Sports Commission, Australian Institute of Sport and the State Institute and Academy network had significantly increased. This facilitated Australia’s best Paralympic athletes to not only train alongside our able-bodied peers but receive funding to help with other living costs.

Outside of opening and closing ceremonies, the Beijing Paralympics was the first time I had experienced a full stadium for competition. The “Bird’s Nest” stadium was at near capacity of 80,000 almost every session, morning and night, for the entirety of the Games.

When Chinese athletes were competing – or more likely winning – the sound in the stadium was almost deafening. I was a part of the 4 x 100m relay team that made the final. Unfortunately a team member crashed on the first bend putting paid to our medal hopes.

The Australian television coverage of the Beijing Paralympics was hosted by the ABC, which dedicated an entire channel to covering ten hours a day. The unprecedented crowds at all venues during the Beijing Games demonstrated that the Paralympic movement was still on a steady ascent in terms of its acceptance, popularity and value.

The professionalism of the athletes reached new levels in the intervening years between Sydney and London. Most developed countries were now funding their Paralympic programs at increasingly high levels, many at comparative levels to their able-bodied programs. The pursuit of wining world championships, world cups and other benchmark events took on increasing significance across the Paralympic sport spectrum.

Selected “para” events were now a fixture on the Commonwealth Games program. The prize money and support at the major marathons around the world had increased to a level that made it lucrative for wheelchair athletes to race four to eight-plus marathons a year.

There was now a strong belief among many of the elite level athletes that we were now building something much bigger than a sporting festival that happens only once every four years.

Becoming elite

Less than four weeks before the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Games I was training at a staging camp in Switzerland and was involved in a serious collision that left me hospitalised, requiring surgery and leaving me permanently scarred.

Fortunately for me, I chose to not let this accident deny me my opportunity to race against the best in the world and continued my journey to London.

The psychological scars from the accident were actually harder to deal with than my physical ones. At times, my preparation felt more like a daily test of my resilience than an elite athlete fine tuning before a major event. Maintaining a my enthusiasm and motivation around my team mates was my biggest concern.

The London Paralympics in 2012 provided me with numerous highlights and firsts. Before arriving in London I took note that anytime Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee, was speaking about the Olympics he never failed to mention the Paralympic Games in the same sentence. He promoted The Games as “one sporting festival with two events”. This was a notable and positive change from the language used at previous games.

On the bus from Heathrow to the Paralympic village for the first time, I noticed Paralympic athletes’ photos adorning large billboards, the entire side of a building, and on the back of buses or taxis. This level of promotion had not occurred in any host city I had previously been too.

Like Beijing, the venues and sessions across the Paralympic program were a near sell out. Inside the 80,000 main stadium athletics fans were lapping up the some of the most extraordinary athletic performances to date. Home town hero David Weir) would finish the games with four gold medals including the 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and the blue ribbon marathon event.

There was one particular night while I was spectating when something happened in the stadium that changed my perception of the Paralympics. In that moment I knew that the Paralympics had arrived.

It was the final of the T44 100m, a race for athletes with a below knee amputation. On the start line was the now infamous Oscar Pistorius from South Africa lining up against Jonnie Peacock from Great Britain among the rest of the field.

The 80,000 strong crowd started chanting “Peacock… Peacock… Peacock”. It was akin to David Beckham taking a penalty for England in a World Cup match. I had no idea who Jonnie Peacock was. I knew he had not run at this level before, but 80,000 others in stadium knew who he was.

The sound was so loud the Peacock himself had to shush the crowd for the start. The atmosphere in the stadium was tangible. The silence before the gun, the eruption of the crowd after the gun, this was a crowd captivated by competition. Forgotten were the disabilities and carbon prosthesis, this was elite level sport, athlete vs. athlete, country vs. country and the bragging rights that go with it.

My individual results in London were a little disappointing for me. My confidence was quite low after the recent crash and it affected my top-end speed on the track. However, my London Games were salvaged on the last night when I won a bronze medal as part of the 4 x 400m relay team when we finished behind Thailand by just 0.14 seconds, again!

It is also with a measure of disappointment that I narrowly missed selection for this year’s Games in Rio, falling short by just 0.3 seconds of the required sub 3.00 minute time for the men’s wheelchair 1500m. But I now get to finally watch the Paralympics unfold with great television coverage and genuine interest from an appreciative Australian (and world) audience.

I can take considerable pride that I have played a small part to help build reputation of the games, the professionalism of the athletes and feel the legacy is in great hands with our current Australian team members.

Finally, I should stress that I owe everything to my parents for the way they handled my initial illness and limitless supply of love and support for me as a child growing up with disability. Without them I none of what I have achieved would have been possible.

Sporting record


2002 Silver medal Commonwealth Games, 60.0kg division – Manchester, England

2000 Silver medal Paralympics, 60.0kg division – Sydney, Australia

1996 8th place Paralympics, 56.0kg division – Atlanta, USA


2012 Bronze 4 x 400m relay London Paralympics

2008 Beijing Paralympic Team member

2004 Silver 4 x 100m relay Athens Paralympics

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



About the author: Richard Nicholson

About the author: Richard Nicholson

Athlete in Residence, University of Canberra

Richard Nicholson is a Paralympic powerlifting and athletics competitor and has competed at five successive Paralympic Games from the 1996 to 2012 Summer Paralympics. At the 2000 Games, he won a silver medal in the powerlifting Men’s Up to 60 kg event. In athletics, at the 2004 Athens Paralympics he won a silver medal in the Men’s 4 × 100 m T53–54 event and at the 2012 London Paralympics a bronze medal in the Men’s 4 × 400 m T53–54 event. He is current Adviser to Athlete Pathways and Development at the Australian Institute of Sport, and Athlete in Residence at the University of Canberra.

A brief history of the Paralympic Games

A brief history of the Paralympic Games

Episode 66: A brief history of the Paralympic Games: From post-WWII rehabilitation to mega sport event

Released: September 2016

As the Paralympic Games get underway, many people viewing might not know how this multi-disability multi-sport mega event has evolved from one-man’s vision to use sport as a vehicle for rehabilitation to the international spectacle that it is today.

Partners: Dr Simon Darcy (University of Technology, Sydney) and Dr David Legg (Mount Royal University, Canada)

Some 160 countries will participate in the Rio 2016 Paralympic games involving an estimated 4,350 athletes competing for 528 medal events across 22 sports. This signifies an 11-fold increases in athlete participation from 400 at the 1964 Tokyo games. Countries represented at the games have grown from 21 in 1964 to 160 and the number of sports has increased 2.5 times from nine to 22.

The Games have thus evolved from an event for only athletes who used wheelchairs to now welcoming ten different impairment types that make up the athlete classification system for competition.

The summer Paralympics now has a massive broadcasting audience, which in London 2012 included a 3.8 billion-person TV audience. It also has an increasing presence on social media. At London 2012, for example, some 1.3 million tweets mentioned “Paralympic”.

As the Paralympic Games get underway, many people viewing might not know how this multi-disability multi-sport mega event has evolved from one-man’s vision to use sport as a vehicle for rehabilitation to the international spectacle that it is today.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann and the origins of the games

The second world war was devastating for humanity, not just in the number of those killed but also in the number of people who sustained injuries resulting in lifelong disability.

The Paralympic games are a direct result of those incurring spinal injuries during the second world war and the improved medical efforts that resulted in much higher survival rates and longer life expectancy.

Ludwig Guttman

Wikimedia, CC BY

Dr Ludwig Guttmann provided the initial impetus to create a para-athletic games. This also meant there was a greater need for rehabilitation. Young people with spinal injuries in their early twenties would now live until their 60s. There was also a moral and economic imperative to ensure they could be contributing and engaged members of society.

One of the responses to this was the opening in 1944 of the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England. It was headed by the visionary Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who quickly gained a reputation for innovative practice not just in medical rehabilitation but also through motivating those with spinal cord injury.

Central to Guttmann’s approach was the introduction of sport into the rehabilitation regime, which quickly evolved into a wheelchair sport competition. This was first between wards, where servicemen and women who were naturally competitive, thrived on the physical outlet that competition provided.

Following a few years of development, as depicted in the film The Best of Men, it was on July 28, 1948 that the Stoke Mandeville Games were first held.

From the announcement of the games, Guttmann had a vision for the future of wheelchair sport beyond Stoke Mandeville. He had deliberately planned for the games to be held at the same time in parallel to the 1948 London Summer Olympic Games.

These modest beginnings of an archery competition with 14 male and two female competitors, led to the creation of an annual Stoke-Mandeville Games. The first internationalisation of this competition occurred in 1952, where competitors from Holland were invited to complete in archery, table tennis, darts and snooker.

Eight years later Rome became the first city outside of Stoke Mandeville to host the games. Yet, it was not until Tokyo 1964 that the term “Paralympics” was officially used.

The table below shows the host cities of the Summer Paralympic Games from 1960 through to 2016. The table also details the growth of the Paralympic Games in terms of overall number of athletes, gender breakdown and proportion, and the number of countries participating.

Adapted from Cashman & Darcy (2008)

The Games evolve

From 1960 to 1984, only two Paralympic Games were held in the same city as the Olympic Games: Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964. However, there was no formal relationship between the organising committees during these two games, or between the International Olympic Committee and the organisations representing the Paralympic movement at that time.

In 1988, the Paralympic and Olympic Games were both held in Seoul, Korea. The host organising committees for the first time ensured that the Paralympic athletes competed in the same venues (except housed different villages) as the Olympic Games. They also had similar style Opening and Closing Ceremonies. For many, these Games represent the birth of the modern Paralympic Games.

One year later in 1989, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was officially formed, bringing together the four separate disability-specific organisations that had previously been represented in the International Co-Coordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled.

With this significant step, the IPC was able to forge closer links with the IOC and the host city organising committees. And since the Barcelona 1992 Olympic and Paralympic Games there has been a much closer “operational partnership. This has seen the Paralympic games held three weeks after the Olympics in the same city and utilising the same games village and venues used for the Olympics. As Richard Cashman notes:

An Olympic endorsement proved a huge boost for the Paralympics, adding status and legitimacy. The timing of the Paralympics, two to three weeks after the Olympics, is also auspicious. By then, people have recovered from the serfeit of Olympic sport and are ready for another.

Up until 1989, with the establishment of the IPC, it could be considered that the Paralympic Games did as well as it could in working with host cities to provide as good a games experience as possible for Paralympic athletes.

The Olympic-Paralympic co-relationship was more evident at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic games, which was widely regarded as a model Paralympic Games. Yet, there was still a great deal of goodwill required for the Olympic and Paralympic games experience to be coordinated through the host city arrangements.

The Atlanta 1996 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed the frailty of the relationship, with significant issues emerging with very little coordination between the two organising committees.

Four years later, the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games became a benchmark for the operational partnership between organising committees. It was following these Games that the first host city agreement between the IOC and IPC was signed ensuring that all Games following 2008 would require bid cities to host both Games.

Even without the formal agreement in place, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 organising committees benefited from the improved knowledge management exchanges that saw lessons from previous games transferred to the next host city.

While the knowledge transfer was predominantly Olympic related, there is no doubt that the Paralympic host city organisation also benefited from this arrangement.

The relationship between the IOC and the IPC was further consolidated prior to the commencement of the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games with the signing of another Memorandum of Understanding, which extends the partnership until 2032.

Whether this agreement is in the best interests of the Paralympic movement is debatable. There are some who believe that the Paralympic movement and Games are at a point in their evolution where they could and should separate themselves from the Olympics.

Yet, the risk associated with the Paralympic Games separating itself from the Olympic partnership is regarded as too high for others who believe the Games and movements are best served being together in the same cities.

More radically, it has been suggested that a merger of the two is best where both Games are held at the same time in the same venues. Others regard this idea as a recipe for a disaster. The integration of non-disabled and para-sport events at the Commonwealth games has been suggested as a model for the future of the Olympics and Paralympics

The IPC, social inclusion and the Paralympic Games

The benefit and value of the Games, regardless of where they are held or placed within an Olympic context, is also being questioned. The vision of the IPC is “to enable Para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world”. Yet critics of the IPC and the Paralympic movement suggest that the rhetoric of these claims falls far short of the reality of people with disability within the host city and country where they take place.

Does the Paralympic games lead to a lasting legacy of improvement for people with disability? Can it only ever improve the material position of the elite athletes who participate? While the IPC Handbook and the IPC accessibility guidelines identify the importance of improving host city accessibility and attitudes towards people with disability, the IPC has never resourced studies to test these claims.

It wasn’t until London 2012 that social inclusion was highlighted in bid documents, and formed part of the narrative leading up to London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. This focused attention specifically on Paralympic engagement beyond the athletic field and sought to prepare London for a legacy that included disability, accessibility and inclusion in the community.

Yet, even this bright light is fading, as recently expressed by the face of the London 2012 Paralympic games Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, who quit her role on the organising committee because she considered it had become “tokenistic”. Similarly, the President of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, is hopeful that the Paralympic Games will improve social inclusion in Brazil.

Yet, the opportunities outlined in both the Rio sustainability management plan and the Rio accessibility guidelines for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games require resourcing to achieve outcomes that currently do not exist for disadvantaged groups in Rio de Janeiro.

Former triathlete, Antonio Lanari Bo, completes the relay of the Paralympic torch in Rio. Revezamento da tocha paralímpica em Brasília, CC BY

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games has not been without its own controversies.

Even before the Olympic Games had ended, controversy over the financial viability of the Rio 2016 Paralympic games dominated social media discussion and captured media headlines worldwide.

These financial matters have spilled over from cost overruns from the Olympic Games and will test the new Memorandum of Understanding signed by the IOC and the IPC.

These financial matters threaten the participation of a number of developing nations that were due to compete at the Paralympic Games with potential non-payment of participation funding from the host organising committee.

As the athletes of the world descend on Rio for the focus of their last four years training, we all hope that the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games can be run safely, successfully and with some type of lasting impact and legacy for the socially disadvantaged in Rio and in particular those with a disability.

If you are interested in a detailed history of the Paralympic movement and fuller understanding of the Paralympic games, see the following:

Athlete First: A History of the Paralympic Movement, by Steve Bailey

The Paralympic Games Explained, by Ian Brittain

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



About the author: Dr Simon Darcy

About the author: Dr Simon Darcy

Professor & Co-Director Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre - UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

Simon Darcy specialises in developing inclusive organisational approaches for diversity groups. His research has spanned a variety of contexts including sport, tourism, events, volunteers, transport, the built environment and disability services. His research and industry collaboration on accessible tourism, volunteer management and the social impact of inclusion has been internationally recognised.

About the Author: Dr David Legg

About the Author: Dr David Legg

Mt. Royal University

David Legg is Professor of Sport Management at Mt. Royal University and Research Fellow with the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design.

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion

Episode 65: The 7 Pillars of Inclusion

Released: June 2016

What are the commonalities of inclusion for disadvantaged populations? The 7 Pillars of Inclusion presents a helicopter view of inclusion as a framework for greater levels of participation.

Partners: Play by the Rules

In mid 2013 I was contacted by the then Manager of Play by the Rules and asked to look at developing a national framework for the greater inclusion of disadvantaged populations into sport. This was not specific to people with disability but would be an overall framework that could be applied across the board – for Indigenous inclusion, for the inclusion of women or the inclusion of people from different cultural backgrounds.

Little was I to know at the time that I was to become the Manager of Play by the Rules myself and, hence, would be in a position to drive the national framework for the next few years. It’s been quite a journey!

Before we look at what the framework entails it’s necessary to step back a little and consider the context in which the framework evolved in Australia. Generally, in Australia for the best part of two decades, there has been a strong focus on targeted programs to address disadvantage. In particular there have been national, state and local programs to tackle the inclusion of people with disability, Indigenous Australians and women. These have been important and necessary and continue to make a difference today as they evolve and grow. Sure, some of these programs have ‘come and gone’ with varying degrees of impact and success, but what they have collectively done is raise the level of awareness and understanding of inclusion – from national level down.

It’s a good situation. In Australia now the question is more ‘how’ to be inclusive, rather than ‘why’.

What has been lacking though is a common language and understanding of what inclusion means – in a practical sense – for providers of sport and recreation. That’s not to ignore the differences between targeted populations, rather, to recognise that there are similarities AND differences. The rationale behind the development of the framework was based on the assumption that a common language and framework would help alleviate duplication and provide a ‘starting point’ for strategy development.

Conversations and common words

To develop the framework a Delphi method of semi-structured conversations was used with a range of practitioners and policy makers across different targeted population groups. Essentially, we were looking for the common words that were used rather than the detail of targeted population strategy. Questions were deliberately broad and open-ended, such as ‘what does inclusion mean to you?’ or ‘what does inclusion look like for you?’ Gradually, common themes emerged and the ‘words of inclusion’ arose.

As the project leader it was fascinating to listen to the conversations as it was clear that, regardless of what the focus was, there were commonalities. People were talking broadly about the same things. The details of implementation were different – the strategies to address Indigenous disadvantage differed markedly to those for people with disability. And the complexities of gender inequality are different to cultural disadvantage. But, the helicopter view of inclusion – the ‘big picture’ issues – were very similar.

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion were born…

Although the 7 Pillars outlined in the video apply to all disadvantaged populations we’ll run through here how they apply only for people with disability.

Before doing that it’s important to consider the approach and language used throughout the framework. We were concerned at the start that the language and approaches used at a professional national level would be very different to the language and approaches at the local voluntary community level. And we wanted the framework to relate to anyone involved in sport, regardless of where they were or if they were a local volunteer or a full-time professional. This was a challenge!

Fortunately, when we looked carefully at the conversations there were important clues that lead us down a particular path. The majority of the conversations focused around simple actions that, over time, lead to cultural change.

Pillar 1: Access

Graeme Innes was, at the time of interview, the federal Disability Discrimination Commissioner – a very senior policy position. Graeme talked about access and creating a welcoming environment at the local level. He talked about the simple things that help make people with disability not just ‘welcome’ but accepted as part of the sporting community. Things like how people are greeted when they first turn up at a sporting facility. Things like regularly talking to people with disability about their needs and making reasonable adjustments to redress disadvantage. Essentially, Graeme talked about changing routines and habits.


The fact that ‘access’ became one of the 7 Pillars is hardly surprising. Physical access issues continue to be one of the primary barriers facing people with disability today despite advancements in building codes, numerous physical access programs and increased awareness and understanding of access issues. These challenges were comprehensively outlined in the SHUT OUT report (2009).

It is more difficult in many ways to discuss ‘access’ in terms of creating welcoming environments. What is a welcoming environment for people with disability? Is it the same for all people with disability? What actions might help facilitate a welcoming environment? How to do find out about these? To make matters more complicated, there is no generally accepted definition of welcoming environments in sport.  That doesn’t stop us having a crack:

A welcoming environment in sport and recreation occurs where there is an atmosphere and culture of respect for all people, where there are opportunities to participate, to have a ‘voice’ and to influence how sport and recreation is delivered.

There are many questions here, the answers to which are often context specific and dependent on local variables. The actions that a local football club in a rural area might take to create such an environment would be different to a metropolitan netball club due to a range of factors, such as gender, locality, size of the club, facilities … the list goes on.  So, answers are not that useful. But questions are! With this in mind a series of checklists were developed for each of the Pillars. These are simply the relevant ‘starter’ questions to help address each Pillar.

Pillar 2: Attitudes

No surprises here either. There has been a mountain of research around the issue of attitudes toward inclusion over the past three decades or more. Many have focused on the physical education setting¹, others on the impact of specific events on attitudes² or attitudes toward disability type³. We know a fair amount from all this. We know, generally, that negative attitudes toward inclusion are characterised by fear, misconception and ignorance (to the extent that people do not understand what is possible). We know that attitudes are influenced by culture, religion, gender and age. So, it’s fair to say that attitudes are important.

What we do not know is how attitudes, positive or negative, are manifest as behaviour. Do people who say they have a positive attitude, back that up with positive actions? Or are people satisfied in themselves that being positive is enough. Do people understand what positive behaviour is?

In Australia, if you ask the question ‘are you positive toward the inclusion of people with disability in your sport program?’ you can pretty much guarantee that 99% of people will say that they are. But but 99% people people back that up with action? There’s a big difference between positive intention and actual behaviour.

Then came the challenge of developing an ‘attitudes’ checklist. Attitudes are complex and checklists are best when they are simple. This was particularly the case when you are considering generic attitudes across targeted population groups. Nevertheless, an emphasis was placed on practical manifestations of common attitudinal traits.

All the checklists were divided up into three focus areas – ‘about the club’, ‘about people’ and ‘about you’. This was done to help address practical issues from an organisational, personal and third person perspective. See the attitudes checklist below.

Pillar 3: Choice

All participants in this project, if they were from a sports club or association, talked about the different choices they offered for people to participate. There are competitions and opportunities for people to play based on gender, based on age, based on ability, based on weight, based on geographic location, etc etc. Sports have a myriad of ways they offer sport choices, all legitimate and all increasing the diversity of participation. This is good.

But, when it comes to exploring choices specific for people with disability there was less clarity. Generally, people talked about the inclusion of people with disability in regular provision, with no modification. Some talked about disability specific versions of their sport, such as wheelchair basketball. A few talked about aspects of their sport that had major modifications to allow for participation, such as specific equipment adaptations to allow people to participate in tenpin bowling.

There was little discussion beyond these quite narrow range of choices. Certainly there was little understanding or drive toward creating choices based on the much larger spectrum of choices.

In Australia and the UK in particular, the Inclusion Spectrum has been a framework used to articulate a broader range of choices for people with disability. The Australian version takes a practical sport focus and has been used in Australia for over a decade.


The Inclusion Spectrum is a simple yet effective framework to help distinguish the range of possible choices in sport for people with disability. Importantly, it depicts inclusion as a ‘circle’ rather than a hierarchical straight line. In the circle all choices are equally valid and appropriate, depending on individual preferences. Watch out for an episode on the Inclusion Spectrum coming soon.

Hamish Macdonald, six time Paralympian, has been one of the leading advocates and practitioners of inclusive sport for people with disability in Australia. Hamish emphasises in this short video the importance of asking people with disability directly how they wish to participate.

The ‘Choices’ checklist was more straightforward. They are essentially a series of questions designed to help sports clubs identify the current choices they offer, including the subsequent gaps in provision, and think about the possible range of choices they could offer in the future. Critical to this is consultation with community groups representing the different targeted population groups.

Pillar 4: Partnerships

There is no question that those organisations that had made good progress in ensuring inclusion was part of core business were those that had created effective partnerships. Creating an inclusive environment, an inclusive culture and inclusive practice meant working with partners. This was particularly the case for sports organisations that formed new partnerships with disability sector organisations. Familiarity breeds acceptance.

The inter-section of supply and demand – when sports organisations that supply inclusive sport join forces with organisations that can generate demand for inclusive sport – is critical to successful inclusion.

What constitutes an effective partnership is not clear. Nevertheless, characteristics of what people considered to be working partnerships included:

  • longevity – good partnerships stand the test of time, are ongoing and ride through the peaks and troughs;
  • a joint commitment to a strong common outcome. Sometimes, this would mean formal agreements, such as the Charters created between sport and disability groups in Queensland;
  • good and regular communication, and
  • the ability to be flexible and adaptable. Inevitably, there will not be agreement on all issues so compromise is important.

Paul Oliver is a man who knows about partnerships. A communications expert with a PhD in Indigenous community development and former Manager of Play by the Rules – one of the best examples of effective partnerships in Australian Sport. Paul explains…

Effective partnerships can be equally important within an organisation as they are outside an organisation. This is particularly so within larger organisations that have different governance layers. In Australia most sports operate within a federated structure of governance. This means that most national bodies have affiliate organisations in the states and territories. Each state and territory organisation, in turn, would have affiliate associations and clubs.

Developing effective partnerships within this type of structure, where affiliate organisations would have different regulatory requirements, is a challenge. This is where clear agreement on basic policy can be important. National inclusion policy that has sign off and endorsement from affiliates helps bind a single organisation toward a common direction.

Partnerships can be formal or informal. Formal partnerships involve some form of documented agreement such as a contract, or a service agreement or a memorandum of understanding. Informal partnerships are more based on mutual understanding and long standing relationships. These are more common locally where partnerships are based on a hand-shake or a barter system. The partnerships checklist tries to reflect these different forms of partnerships.

Pillar 5: Communication

Inclusion cannot happen alone. People must know about intentions and actions that make inclusion a reality. It is common that people who regard themselves as inclusive also have an assumed knowledge and understanding attributed to others. This can be a false assumption. Communicating your commitment, intentions and actions is critical to embedding an inclusive approach within an organisation. Otherwise, good actions can become the ‘best kept secret’ of a handful of people.

The good news is that these days it is easier than ever to communicate, internally and externally, your intentions and actions about inclusion. Generally, the larger the organisation is, the more challenging it is to communicate effectively. Conversations with representatives from national sporting organisations highlighted the challenge of communicating through different national, state and local affiliate organisations. Smaller state and even local organisations have fewer challenges because of less complex structures. There were differences here too. Some organisations have successfully streamlined and modernised member databases, making communication to broad memberships simple and quick. Others still rely on outdated spreadsheets that are difficult to work with.

The organisations that appeared to have more effective communication channels also embraced social media as an important communication tool. Social media allows for quick, focused and widespread messages about inclusion to members and non-members alike. Some organisations also use technology to educate, inform and engage members on inclusive initiatives, for example, Cricket Australia webinar series on A Sport for All.

Debbie Simms is an experienced and expert communicator, having managed the Australian Sports Commissions Women in Sport Unit for many years. In the video below Debbie offers some very practical communication tips for sporting organisations.

Communication can be mandated too. The requirement to have a public commitment to inclusion was built into the Sports CONNECT framework in 2002. This public commitment was tied to funding criteria and needed to have the backing and endorsement of senior management. How this was done from sport to sport differed. Football Federation Australia made a public commitment to inclusion during an international football match at the Sydney Football Stadium in front of 70,000 people. Cricket Australia made their commitment with the Prime Minister at an international cricket game in Canberra. Others simply posted a commitment on websites and/or newsletters.

This type of public commitment toward inclusion is very powerful and often acts to bind organisations to plans and policies even when the going gets tough. ‘Policy’ was also seen as critical to inclusion and emerged as the sixth Pillar.

The communication checklist reflects many of the practical points discussed by Debbie Simms above. These are universal tips going across many areas of inclusion.

Pillar 6: Policy

The development of Policy was discussed in some format by all interviewees. ‘Policy’ can mean different things to different people. It can encompass codes, rules and regulations, by-laws, policy documents, guidelines and even contracts and memorandum of understandings. The Business Directory defines policy as:

A set of policies are principles, rules, and guidelines formulated or adopted by an organization to reach its long-term goals and typically published in a booklet or other form that is widely accessible.

The words ‘widely accessible’ here is critical to successful policy. If people do not know that a policy exists and what it stands for then it is unlikely to be effective or, at best, be a retroactive document that’s only pulled off the shelf when a need arises.

To reinforce the importance of policy and the need to communicate and make widely accessible any documentation, another requirement of Sports CONNECT was to register draft Disability Action Plans with the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission keeps a national register of Action Plans in many different sectors. As a result of Sports CONNECT the ‘sport sector’ went from one registered Plan to 25 nationally registered Disability Action Plans in a few years. Attached to these Plan were active Policy documents that clearly articulated the intentions and commitments of each respective sporting body.

Play by the Rules has a Disability Policy template that can be adapted by sports clubs and associations.

Carl Currey was manager of the Indigenous Sports Unit for seven years and has done a huge amount of work on the development of inclusive sport policy at a national level, particularly within government. See what Carl has to say about the importance of policy below.

As Carl point out here, the impact of a policy commitment is that it sets the agenda for action. It becomes a reference point and an accountability mechanism for an organisation.

The Policy checklist that was developed for the 7 Pillars project focused on a series of simple actions to ‘demystify’ policy development. Some interviewees expressed an ignorance and fear of policy development. There was also a notion that ‘policy’ was something that large organisations have but small local clubs have no need or capacity to develop. Hence, the checklist attempts to bridge this gap by creating simple actions that makes the process quick, accountable and reflecting local community contexts.


Pillar 7: Opportunity

The distinction between the pillar 7 opportunity and pillar 3 of choice was a difficult one initially. There was a distinction, however, between offering a choice of activity and actually providing for that choice. While it is positive to offer different choices, it is often the case that individuals encounter serious challenges when trying to fully utilise that choice.

For example, a football club might offer various choices for participation such as teams for different age groups or genders. They might offer indoor football, futsal or choices that are only a certain day and time of the week. These are all different options for participation and, generally, the more choices there are then the more opportunities exist to participate. This is the same for people with disability as it is for anyone interested in football.

However, in discussions for the 7 Pillars there were many examples of these type of choices that did not ‘fit’ with individuals with disability. There was often specific reasons why there needed to be flexibility or variations in the structure or rules. Or there needed to be some adaptation to how the choice was offered and delivered. Rather than ignore these reasons we decided to examine them more within the pillar of opportunity.

These are the details of inclusion that make inclusion work. It is not sufficient to simply offer a choice. The choice needs to be developed, thought through and often modified to cater for diversity of need.

Pino Migliorino is the CEO of an organisation called Cultural Perspectives – multicultural marketing and communication specialists and consultants focused on connecting people, communities and organisations through the lens of diversity. Pino understands the power of sport to connect people and promote diversity. In the video below he looks at cultural diversity and sport and some of the detail that connects people from culturally diverse backgrounds to sport.

The detail of creating opportunities for real participation for people with disability often involves adapting and modifying activities. There are tools to help do this of course. In Episode 12 we looked at the TREE model for adapting and modifying activities.

In that vein we developed the Opportunities checklist that took a broad practical perspective for a club or organisation, for the community and for individuals.

The self-assessment tool

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion is an ongoing project. Shortly after publishing the 7 Pillars of Inclusion a partnership arose with Swimming Australia. Swimming Australia is one of Australia’s leading national sports organisations, particularly in the inclusion space where they have done a huge amount of excellent work over many years. Swimming Australia had developed the Inclusive Swimming Framework – a blueprint to guide Swimming Australia, its stakeholders and aquatic partners toward achieving full inclusion of people from a diverse array of circumstances and backgrounds in swimming and aquatic activities. The ISF incorporates the direction, thoughts and opinions of the swimming and aquatic community and aims to establish a consistent approach to planning and policy development for the swimming and aquatics sector.

Central to the ISF is an online self-assessment tool based on the 7 Pillars of Inclusion. Play by the Rules and Swimming Australia developed a bespoke online tool that swimming and aquatic organisations can use to assess their individual status on each Pillar. The online tool uses a questionnaire for each pillar that is similar to the checklist and ‘rates’ responses as people progress through the 7 Pillars. On conclusion an organisation can see how they rate themselves against each pillar, giving them a starting point to address inclusion in the long term.

The tool will continue to develop and is a great example of how a broad framework, such the 7 Pillars of Inclusion, can also be developed as a practical tool to help further inclusion.



¹ Tant, M, & E. Watelain (2015). Forty years later: a systematic literature review on inclusion in physical education (1975 – 2015): A teacher perspective. Educational Research Review, v19, November 2016, pages 1-17.

² Papaioannou, C & C. Evaggelinou, (2014). The Effect of a Disability Camp Program on Attitudes towards the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in a Summer Sport and Leisure Activity Camp, International Journal of Special Education, v29 n1 p121-129 2014.

³ Ferrara, K, Burns, J & H. Mills, (2015). Public Attitudes Toward People With Intellectual Disabilities After Viewing Olympic or Paralympic Performance, Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 2015, 32, 19-33.

Sports CONNECT Framework (2002-2010). Australian Sports Commission.



About the author: Peter Downs

About the author: Peter Downs

Founding Director - The Inclusion Club

Peter is Founding Director of The Inclusion Club and Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative to promote safe, fair and inclusive sport. Peter has worked for over 25 years in the field of inclusive sport, disability sport and physical activity including 17 years managing the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit.  In 2013 Peter was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Fellowship to study models of best practice in inclusive sport and physical activity.

TIC30: Katrina Porter

TIC30: Katrina Porter

Katrina Porter

Katrina Porter

Sport development

Katrina Porter is a Paralympic champion, having competed in swimming backstroke for Australia at three Paralympic Games and three World Championships. She now works in Perth, her home town, in sport development supporting local sport providers in a range of areas. A great champion, with great determination and a great story.

Transcript of the Podcast with Katrina Porter

Katrina Porter

You’re listening to an Inclusion Club Tic Talk all about sport, inclusion and human rights.


Welcome to today’s Tic Talk. It’s a great pleasure to have Katrina Porter with us today. Katrina is a three times paralympian, three times world championships, probably your crowning glory in an athletic sense was 2008, Beijing, gold medal and world record in the backstroke?


Yes, it certainly was a huge highlight and something I’d worked my whole life towards so it was nice to get the icing on the cake.


It was good icing, good icing! Your last one was in London; you did go to London of course didn’t you?


Yes, so I went to London as well, however my performance wasn’t quite up to where I wanted it to be but I had a fall literally exactly one year prior to London. I broke my hip whilst on camp at the AIS in Canberra so I was out for about four months with rehab – firstly hospital, operation, rest, rehab, so my training for London was very on the backburner in regards to getting my health back because as a result of breaking my hip I got a pulmonary embolus on my lung, otherwise known as a blood clot.  In London my performance wasn’t up to scratch but I made three finals so you can’t complain about that.


That’s a pretty good reason. That’s great!


Yes, exactly. Going in as defending gold medallist often there’s a lot of pressure to re-defend your title but there was no pressure because just to make London was a huge achievement. I thought that was it for me. When I was lying in a hospital bed I thought “oh well, I guess I’m retiring early”.


So how many months before London was that?


That was exactly 12 months, so that was August 2011 and then I got the blood clot in the beginning of October, so two months later, and then I was out for another two months so training started literally in December with trials at end of March so I had four months and then Paralympics four months after that so it wasn’t the best build up but I got to go!


We’ll talk about your Paralympic journey and your work now with Western Australian Sports Federation but let’s go right back – you were born in Perth?


Yes, so Perth girl, born and raised.


Okay. You’d have seen some changes. We’re in Perth right now and that’s where you live now but you’ve seen some changes in those times?




What was it like growing up in Perth?


It was a great place to be honest. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now and as I should have, so grew up in a nice suburb called City Beach which is literally two minutes from the beach as you’d expect and went to a lovely school nearby and had absolutely no reason to complain but as Perth often gets that tag of having ‘dullsville’ I was a true believer and I thought “well there’s nothing good that happens in Perth” Yeah we’ve got good beaches but I didn’t fully appreciate Perth until I was about 18 when I moved away and I guess through my swimming career I travelled a lot and I always saw the best parts of every city. I’d go to New York, Paris, London and I’d come back to Perth and I’m like, well, this really doesn’t have a lot to offer and then now as I’m older I appreciate it. The development in Perth is huge, the fasting growth rate for many years now and the mining boom certainly helped so it’s very expensive to live here but it’s worth it for me. I think it’s a great city.


That’s why I asked what was it like when you were growing up here because it is a boom city. It’s changed dramatically in the past decade because of mining and things—


Absolutely, yeah, the housing, the development, everything, the people, the population especially, the traffic – it’s not like Sydney so I can’t complain that much but certainly to get from A to B isn’t as smooth as it used to be but that’s the way the world is now. I don’t think there’s anywhere that wouldn’t have seen it.


So in the early days when did sport become part of your life?


I guess when I was about nine or 10 I started to take it quite seriously. I was obviously quite active as a child. I had triplet brothers and a sister growing up and they were running around mad so I was never really given any easy way, it was just, I had to fit in, mum and dad didn’t have any chance to fuss over me so I was always active and I had to do a lot of physiotherapy for my disability so I was always in and out of the pool doing hydrotherapy and then we bought a house with a pool in it and mum and dad couldn’t get me out so hand to glove put me in a swimming club and off I went.


So they didn’t wrap you in cotton wool?


No, definitely not, so thank God I had the best upbringing I could imagine. I’ve got quite a few friends and it’s sad, they were wrapped up in cotton wool and you look at them now and they haven’t really reached their potential and it’s sad because I’m like “you could be so much more than what you are” so whilst it’s hard for them to see that because they don’t know any different, I look at myself and I’ve always been very, very self-driven, very independent, always gone out and done things for myself, not because mum and dad said so or because I was pushed into it, I’ve gone out and made my own career, completed my university degree, competed at the Paralympics because it was my dream, no one else’s dream so I think it has a lot to do with my upbringing and I was always quite a strong child because I didn’t have the help that probably people would expect.


Obviously family and parents were critical in helping that, but what other critical – one of the things in these podcasts we come across is that often critical people or individuals or situations that at a moment in time kind of changed things for you. Did you have any of those moments?


Absolutely. Funnily enough I was talking about this last night. My condition, arthrogryposis multifactor congenital, is quite rare. There’s not a lot of knowledge about it and everyone that’s got it has quite a different form so whilst I was born with it they didn’t quite know where I would be, what my future would hold so they sort of said to mum and dad “expect the worst, probably won’t be able to walk, just take good care of her and see where she might go”. They were advised to put me in a wheelchair and really wrap me up in cotton wool because they don’t know what the outcome was going to be but as I got older I learnt to stand at four, I took my first steps at five and it was at that point that mum and dad thought well there’s no reason why she can’t do more so my dad was in a fortunate position with his business so he was able to buy a three storey house so at the beginning everyone’s like “wow, that’s just cruel to buy a three-storey house” and my bedroom was on the third floor so all of my parent’s friends and I probably would think the same now is “oh my god, why would you do that with a disabled child?” It was very hard I think for my mum. My mum was quite soft and gentle and wanted to pick me up and carry me but my dad would always say “come on, we’re going out” and they would have to sit in the car for 5-10 minutes waiting for me to get there because it would be harder for me to get down the stairs than everyone else but they would have to be patient and I think in the long run – I still live in a three-storey house now and everyone said “wouldn’t it be good to live in a one-storey?” and I’m like “no way, I love it”.


It’s an interesting lesson isn’t it?


Exactly and I think that was a really critical moment in time where I had to fight. I didn’t get given everything in a little golden basket. It was sort of “if you want to go to bed well you’ll have to go up three flights, or two flights of stairs to get there”. That was really critical as a moment in my life that I think really pushed me and made me realise that whilst I had a disability there was no reason I couldn’t get to my room and then therefore do other things in my life.


Let’s face it, the Paralympics can seem very glamorous and everything but there’s a lot of hard work that goes in, the logistics behind that is very challenging?


Absolutely. There’s no easier way to make the Paralympics than there is to make the Olympics. Sure, we all have disabilities and there are things that we can’t do but that doesn’t mean I didn’t train as hard as every other Olympian so leading into Athens and Beijing I trained at West Coast Swimming Club and we had four Olympians and two Paralympians all in the one lane doing the same thing day in, day out. There was no, just because (8:24) maybe have a morning off. I didn’t get that and that’s something I’m really proud of that there was easy way into the Paralympics. I didn’t just get there because “oh, good on you, you swam in a race”. We had to make the qualifying times. We had to have our skin fold measured. We had to do the weights. We had to do the training. It was part and parcel as it is for being an Olympian. It’s just as much hard work to be a Paralympian.


Did school and your early education take a part in all that too because you obviously had the family support and your own personality that’s driven you there but school’s also a big thing?


Absolutely and I look back now and I did put swimming first but then again I got to achieve my goals so it was worth it but at the same time I often thought “oh swimming’s the number one, I don’t really have to worry about school” but I look back now and my school was really supportive of me.  When I went to Athens they said “look, don’t even worry about—“ I was in Year 11 at school so a critical year with exams etc leading into Year 12 and my school was very great at helping me balance the workload and then Year 12 similarly enough, I got an extra study period per day so whilst I was swimming morning and night when I should be doing study or homework I was able to do it in between classes so school was really, really great to me. I probably didn’t push myself as much as I should have but I’ve made up with it now so I put myself into gear when I left and I thought “hang on a second, I’ve got brains, I need to use them more than I have been, I’m not just an athlete”.


It’s a critical thing to have support from school. They’re places where you spend so much time and effort in, if it’s not supportive then—

Katrina: Exactly and whilst I’m an individual athlete there are a hell of a lot of people that got me to where I am. It’s not just because I swam up and down a pool day in, day out by myself. I had a team of people around me to get me there and those people all deserve the credit. They don’t get the limelight. They don’t get the attention that I may have got, definitely after Beijing but they certainly know who they are and they know the role that they played.


I read somewhere that you spent some considerable time in Italy?


I did, yes, I spent about a year and a half there.




Yeah, it was beautiful. It was tough. It sounds glamorous but there was certainly a lot that I learnt from moving to Rome. I was there for about 18 months over three years so I used to date a wheelchair basketballer, Michael Hartnett who also was playing for Australia at the London and Beijing Games – a gold medallist from Beijing – so he was contracted to play over there so I went over there just as a WAG – I’m just not the wife yet. It was real learning experience. I was 19 when I left and when I got there I thought “oh I’ll be walking to the Trevi Foundation” and “I’m going to wake up next to the Vatican” it wasn’t that easy. I was an hour out of town. I had to learn to drive.


In Italy, oh, good luck!


Yeah I know, but I was very proud. I did not have one car accident. I think my road rage probably got a lot worse and I’ve had to learn to tone it down since I’ve come back to Perth.


Have you got now extravagant hand movements?


No, because I use hand controls to drive I had to always be more vocal than physical so I’ve had to tone that part of my driving down. Thankfully I don’t have all the physical attributes to go with it but certainly it was a lesson in driving. I guess one thing for me was tying it back to the Inclusion Club was there was no inclusion with swimming. There was a massive divide between able-bodied swimming and Paralympic or disabled swimming. Whatever level you were at there was no integration.


What disadvantage do you think that gave? I’m assuming there was a disadvantage in that?


Absolutely. I think physically and also mentally because the confidence that I found from the swimmers within the disabled club that I was at, it was just so much lower. They didn’t have the aspirations. They didn’t realise what they could be. Similar to what I mentioned before. Their parents were there at the side of the pool with their towels when they got out at training, similar to what you’d see at a Learn to Swim program when you’ve got toddlers and babies and these are adults and their parents are there “oh good job, you did a good time tonight” and I just thought my mum—


Even when you didn’t kind of thing?


No, they were always giving positive reinforcement and whilst that’s important there was no negative reinforcement. Like, you need some drive. You need to be pushed. Well you need to learn to push yourself as well and that’s a huge critical element but I also think that there was just too much of ‘mummy and daddy’ on the sidelines. There was no one there that questioned why they weren’t integrated. It was just the way that it was. There was no one that really stood up and said “hey I’m just as fast” or “I can make this cycle” [in swimming talk] to say “Well why can’t I actually move the club down the road?” so I actually took that step upon myself.


Did you?


Yeah, I got really frustrated because geographically the closest club to me that was a disabled swimming club that I was invited to train with was an hour and 15 minutes away so in traffic it took me forever to get there. It was basically a day to go to swimming because it was an hour and 15 there, train, whatever, and then get home again, however the closest able-bodied swimming club was 500 metres walk and I kept thinking “why aren’t I swimming with them?” like logistically that just makes more sense so I got a friend of mine, Brad Ness, who is actually Captain of the Rollers. He was my next door neighbour and he spoke Italian so I said “Brad, I need your help with this. I need you to help me translate” as my Italian was a bit broken but I went down to that local club and walked in. They gave me the up and down like “what are you doing here?” They didn’t have any exposure to athletes who – sure, they might have seen the Paralympics on TV but they would never have had the exposure to it in real life and had to swim with one so I watched them train for a couple of days, learnt what they did and thought “I can make that. There’s no reason why I can’t. I might be at the back of the lane but that’s standard. I’ve always been at the back” so I went down and spoke to the coach and originally she wasn’t very happy with the idea. I don’t think she thought it could fit. It was just ‘too hard basket’ so I said “give me one shot, give me one chance, I’ll come down here, I’ll do one session. If I can’t make it, I don’t belong, fair enough, it’s going to be too hard for you, I get that but there are ways that we can make this work”. So I went down there. It was probably the hardest set I’d ever done in my life. I think she actually did that so I wouldn’t make it but honestly – it was 2½ hours, 7.5km in a 25 metre pool so for me not having the use of my legs very well it was even harder but I made the whole thing, so that was the deal, if I made it I got to stay. So I stayed. It was tough. Every day was a killer.


But that’s what you wanted?


That’s what I wanted. I wanted to prove that I had a backbone, that I wasn’t just going to give up because I only had the use of half my body and, yeah, I got two seconds rest when everyone else was getting 20 but it didn’t mean that I would take the next 100 off. I still did exactly what they did and that’s my whole life. I’ve always been that way and for me that was a really important lesson, not just for me but for the girls and guys within that squad to be able to see that you can have challenges and still fight them. I don’t know if they understood that I was there for one session and if I didn’t make it I wasn’t going to come back.


Did you see a change in attitude from the coach and you mentioned the other swimmers as well?


Yeah there was – for some reason it actually turned into a bit of an intimidation I felt from them. They were very ignorant of me. I don’t know whether it was a language barrier. My Italian improved a lot. I was there for 18 months but I often found they would—


You learnt to swear in Italian?


They’re the first words you learn, but I often found that in the change rooms they would say things about me and I could understand them – it was rude – and I’d understand them and I often said “yeah, I understand” and they would just mumble things and then I wouldn’t be able to because I knew they were trying to speak faster and they obviously knew I couldn’t keep up but I thought originally it would really change their mindset but it didn’t, which is a real shame. I don’t know whether it was a language barrier. I don’t know what it was but I felt that they were either intimidated by me and they didn’t really want to warm to me. I stuck it out though. I was like “there’s no way in hell I’m going to leave”. That was my mission. I don’t know what they’re doing now. I left.


I guess one of the lessons from that is that it doesn’t always result in transforming attitudes, you know, exposure around that kind of thing doesn’t always?


No. It’s obviously the goal and that’s what we hope but it doesn’t always work that way and that’s I think a common theme that it’s not just one leg and a clip/click for everyone, it’s a persistent ongoing, that’s why we have things like the Inclusion Club in 2015. It’s been around for awhile but it doesn’t just happen overnight so hopefully when these other swimmers mature, mentally, physically, they might realise, they might think back about “oh that Australian girl that was on crutches, she was great” or “she could make it” so I bet it’s a transition over time and like I said it doesn’t happen overnight.


I think you might be right, maybe on reflection and people look back at times so there might be some transformation of attitudes in that way?


Definitely. Absolutely.


Because you don’t know at the time that it might be really weird for them or whatever?


Yeah, I think we all go through our life where we obviously look back on reflection and maybe regret things or think “why did I think that way?” Even I think like that in terms of many things. As you get older you develop mentally and emotionally and you might think back and think “gosh, that did have an effect on me that I didn’t quite acknowledge at the time” so that’s one thing I really hope to do at the end of the day. It doesn’t happen overnight and I learnt the hard way over there. I didn’t get accepted. I didn’t get appreciation. I didn’t really make any friends but I was determined that I was going to stick it out. I was there to prove a point for myself and also to the coach that just because I had a disability there is no reason why I can’t be in that club. I guess hopefully I paved the way for someone else to come along and challenge the thoughts and the processes because like I said people get stuck in their ways. They think this is how it is. It should be like this forever.


I’m sure you would have done and that was before Athens?


No before London so that was just after Beijing and I took my gold medal there and I thought I’m going to have to really show off here and really get it to include me but that didn’t really make any difference. It was really interesting. It was something – I guess culturally we are quite different and I learnt that and I learnt that. I’d been to Italy travelling before. We had our staging camp pre-Athens in Rome so I’d been there and I thought “what a beautiful city” and then when I lived there I was like “this is different”. It still is wonderful and I’ve been back there for a holiday since but I guess travelling and living is completely different.


Yeah it is different.




Beijing! Crowning glory!


Exactly, the crowning jewel, yep.


How did you feel at the end of that? Now I’ve spoken to other athletes as well. Did you feel that was – you achieved what you set out to achieve and now you move on or is it—?


Yeah, absolutely. I guess – I was 19 in Beijing so still quite young. I’d put everything into winning that gold medal. That was everything I’d ever wanted to achieve. If you’d asked me what my goal was, that was it. There were no other goals, academically, emotionally, anything. That was my goal. Going to Beijing, winning the gold, getting the world record. I’d had world records before but never at a Paralympics and that was really a huge moment for my life and I did it in a heat in the final. It was absolutely amazing. It was a day that I’ll never forget and I get shivers watching it now but it was also really quite defining for me in every other area of my life because I won the gold medal and I was on this huge high and then I moved to Italy eight days later so whilst everyone’s having their welcome home ceremonies, Paralympian of the year dinner, swimmer of the year dinner, I’m sitting on my couch in Rome watching BBC world news with no one – well I had Michael but he was living his dream of playing professional basketball.  He’d won gold but his dream was to play professional basketball in Europe so he was living that dream and I felt “well, what other dreams do I have?” and it was really a hard thing to go through to be honest. I think if I’d have stayed home I would have just been on a high and just continued with the media and continued on that path. I don’t know when that would have ended but it was quick change to my reality. I got there and it was like “okay, so there’s no one here to congratulate me. There’s no one here that wants to catch up for coffee and talk about Beijing”.  I had friends that wanted to Skype obviously but it wasn’t the same so it was really defining and it was at that point in time that I thought “I’ve got other things that I can achieve” so I enrolled in Uni and did a double degree in Economics and Finance. I got a career at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. I was training for London and I was so much more fulfilled as a person, not just because I won a gold medal and known that my life goal was achieved but also because I realised there’s a whole lot more than winning a gold medal. It’s absolutely doesn’t discredit it whatsoever. It was absolutely amazing and I’m sure if I didn’t win gold I don’t know where I’d be but I think that it was really defining for me to realise that’s just one element of my life.  There’s a whole other lot that I can fulfil. I might not be a gold medalist but that’s not the be all and end all.


You can’t have a very quick recalibration of your life?


It was really tough.


Which is good I guess.


I ended up planning to go to Rome for nine months the first stint but I came home after two because I just mentally couldn’t handle it. I just thought “what am I doing with my life? I’ve swum for this many years. Got my goal but now what?” I felt empty so I left end of September. I got home for Christmas which was totally unplanned. Stayed home for five weeks. That’s when I enrolled in Uni. I got in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade and did some work in Rome with the Ambassador so I was very fortunate to be able to get my life in order quickly but at the same time it was a real shock that I would have those emotions. I thought once I got a gold medal that would be everything. I’d be on a high till I was old and gray but it didn’t last as long as I thought but I’m still very proud and I’m prouder than what I was back then because I’ve got a gold medal which is everything to me. I’ve got the Order of Australia Medal, I’ve got OAM after my name but I’ve also got a career. I’ve got a degree. I’ve got great family, great friends so it’s sort of a complete package.


It’s good you were kind of grounded in that way because it can be that that euphoria – euphoria of such a massive event carries on far too long—


Absolutely and it’s not to be just celebrated, it’s a huge achievement and I did put a lot of work into that and it certainly was my life but it also makes you realise and I’ve spoken to other fellow athletes that you’re in this bubble of sport and it’s absolutely amazing. It was the best time of my life but it’s a bubble and it’s going to pop one day and you’re going to think “hang on a second, what have I got?” so I think that’s a lot of problems with some sports people that we see now, they live in that bubble, they don’t think about life after or life outside and they get their goals which is amazing and what you want to get out of it but then you get to that point where you don’t live on that wave forever. You’ve got to realise that at some point in time you need to fulfil other areas of your life. There are 24 hours in a day. Swimming doesn’t take up 24. It’s hard to balance it but I think there’s a real fine knack.


In Australia right now as you know there’s quite a discussion around mental health issues and sports people and a few high profile cases of that but certainly that bubble, it’s a nice way you’ve described it. It is a bubble so a bubble will burst and it’s preparing for that isn’t it I guess?


Yeah, absolutely and having the support around you as an athlete is second to none. You’ve got people who care genuinely for you and they’re recording absolutely everything. You can be on this pedestal where you think “well it’s all about me. I don’t need to think about life after because everyone’s invested into me and I’m going to make these people proud. I’m going to get my goal and hopefully their goal as well. They worked for this as well” so there is that feeling and it’s required. To be the best athlete you need the support of the people there as well but you also need to take care of yourself mentally. I think you need to continue the momentum, not just physically to be the best athlete but I found my best times of swimming to be when I was studying and working. I was busy. I didn’t get the rest periods that I had before with the daily naps etc but I was fulfilled in all aspects.  If I had a bad day at training I might have a great day at work and it would even out, not just if I have a bad day at training I have a bad day all round and that continues—


Yes, it’s a good balance.


Yeah, it’s required so something that I think is really important for all athletes and people in general. Life balance is such a critical thing nowadays. It’s not just for athletes.


It kind of translates – and we’ll fast forward to your work now with Western Australian Sports Federation there. It kind of fast forwards doesn’t it? Your attitudes and your approach kind of reflects in the work you’re doing now which is quite often about attitude change, whether it’s to do with alcohol or whether it’s to do with things so I can see that now.


Yes. It’s really lovely now that I’m working on the other side. I’m still involved in sport but I’m not coaching or pooled out. I’m not directly involved with athletes. I’m looking down and saying “how we can influence change” and like you said change attitudes to sporting clubs, sporting associations to at the end of the day create what we want as a sporting club or as an association which then translates into the members, the athletes, the officials, so it’s a whole ballpark of things I guess and working within training and education I’m fortunate that I work directly one-on-one with those sporting clubs and the officials and the volunteers who really are the life and blood of sport so I am very passionate about grassroots sport and I think that starts with training and education around the many different areas but I think you need to start from the bottom and hopefully that transcends and is delivered through all aspects.


Excellent. Well Katrina thank you very much.


No worries. Thank you very much for coming over to Perth so welcome to the sunny capital.


It’s a beautiful day here I have to say. So yes thank you very much. We could keep talking all day I think.


We could indeed. I’ve got work till 9:30 at night so unfortunately not but yes, it’s a beautiful day, 31° outside so poor people in Canberra or wherever you’re listening.


Thank you very much Katrina for talking to us on Tic Talks and the very best of luck. I’m sure you’ll go from strength to strength from here and I know you’ll do some great work here with the Western Australian Sports Federation and Department here.


Thanks very much Peter and we’ll keep on pushing in the same direction.


Keep pushing.


You’ve been listening to an Inclusion Club Tic Talk podcast. For more Tic Talks visit www.theinclusionclub.com