Episode 26:

Making Contact—What happens when people with disability turn up?

Published: June 2012: Updated: July 2013, August 2017

Partners: Tiina Siivonen, David Legg, Aija Saari, Lauren Lieberman, Liam McDonagh, Martin Mansell and Mike Loovis

The first contact a person with a disability has with their local sports program is vitally important. It can make or break long term involvement and participation. So, we asked seven leading world practitioners how they create welcoming and inclusive environments for people with disability to turn up to. Seven videos—lots of insights! Download the free e-book from this episode.

We all know how important that first point of contact is. It can ‘make or break’ inclusion. A negative first experience can be all it takes for someone to turn their back on a sport. A positive first experience can mean a lifetime of involvement in something that can, literally, change a person’s life.

When a family walks through the front door wanting to get their son or daughter into a sports club, how are they greeted?

When a person with a disability wants to go to the local gym, what kind of reception do they get?

If a person with a disability wants to travel with a group on a walking tour, how will their application be received?

Creating a welcoming and positive environment, with support programs and systems in place, can be quite a challenge for individuals and organisations alike. But really important.

So, we thought we’d ask a number of experienced and skilled world experts what they do to make sure that first experience is a positive one. In the course of our travels and work we are lucky enough to bump into such people. Ken attended the European Congress on Adapted Physical Activity (EUCAPA) in Ireland in May 2012 and took the opportunity to ask a number of participants about their view on that all important ‘first contact.’

Ken asked contributors from Ireland, Finland, the UK and USA, all hugely experienced in the field of adapted physical activity, about the role of the practitioner in supporting the transition of a person with a disability into a new sports environment. About the same time Peter also had the chance to interview David Legg from Mount Royal University whilst he was on a study tour to Australia.

So, The Inclusion Club would like to thank Lauren Lieberman, Mike Loovis, Martin Mansell, Liam McDonough, Aija Saari, Tiina Siivonen and David Legg for taking the time to provide their comments.

This is a great little episode that covers some important inclusive ‘tipping points.’ In fact, we’ve included our little ‘tipping points’ from each video underneath. These are just our ‘take-outs’ from these interviews but you’ll want to see each interview to get the full story—each one is only a couple of minutes long.

Because it’s the way we roll, we’ve transcribed these short interviews and created a pretty cool little e-book for you to download further down the page. It will also help you navigate the various accents you’ll come across!


Mike Loovis
Cleveland State University, Ohio, USA

OUR TIPPING POINT: Show people around. When someone turns up it’s important that they get familiar with the surroundings as soon as possible. Familiarity makes people more at ease with a new situation.

Martin Mansell
MJM Associates, UK

OUR TIPPING POINT: Be prepared. Have a policy on inclusion established before a person arrives so that everyone is familiar with what will be done and what the clubs position is with respect to inclusion.

Liam McDonagh
CARA National Adapted Physical Activity Centre, Ireland

OUR TIPPING POINT: Be creative. Sometimes you might need to be creative in thinking of ways to make a person feel comfortable in a new surrounding. Think about what that person needs to be familiar with—what will they see, touch, smell and hear?

Lauren Lieberman
SUNY, Brockport, USA

OUR TIPPING POINT: Think ahead. Send information and get to meet the person in their own environment first if possible. Get to know particular needs and expectations.

Aija Saari
Finnish Disability Sports Organisation, Finland

OUR TIPPING POINT: It’s their choice. Be as flexible as you can be and remember the importance of individual choice. Giving people the choice in how they wish to participate is very empowering.

David Legg
Mount Royal University, Canada

OUR TIPPING POINT: Promote positive attitudes. If your coaches and instructors have a willingness and an openness to working with athletes with disabilities then this goes a long way to success.

Tiina Siivonen
Finnish Disability Sports Organisation, Finland

OUR TIPPING POINT: Get active quickly. Sport and physical activity is a great ice-breaker. The sooner you get active with a new person, particularly in a group situation, then the quicker the acceptance.

Now you can download our little transcript e-book from these interviews. This would make a really nice handout to a group of students or trainers if that is what you do. Just a thought!

The Inclusion Club—Episode26: Making Contact TranscriptDownload the interview transcript PDF by clicking the image above

There are some gems of advice here from our contributors. You can find this e-book on the Resources section of our site or use the share buttons on the sidebar to spread this episode to your friends and colleagues.


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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.