Thanks for registering to Carers WA E-learning Portal!

You have been redirected to our courses page. Start enrolling here and enjoy your learning experience!

The issues with unconscious bias in sport and recreation

There is a gap in participation rates of people with a disability when compared with the general population. Community groups as a whole often have their own ‘unconscious bias’s in who ‘fits the part’ to join their group and people with a disability often have their own ‘blind spots’ as to where they fit in.

Although most clubs say they are open to everyone in the community, the reality is that very few people with disabilities are actually members of community groups, particularly in mainstream sports clubs.   

There are several barriers as to why people with a disability are underrepresented in sporting clubs, social clubs and recreational clubs some of these include:

  • Lack of confidence and negative self-image
  • Safety concerns from society- seen as risk taking or too dangerous
  • Poor prior experiences
  • Un-welcoming club culture: no sense of belonging, feelings of isolation
  • Feeling as if they are a burden or ‘extra’ work
  • Inadequate transport facilities
  • Cost associated with joining and participating
  • Other members not supportive of inclusion
  • Fear of failure 
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Lack of acceptance and ignorance from society
  • Lack of awareness or promotion of disability sport opportunities
  • Assumptions made by others about a person’s abilities
  • Peoples ‘blind-spots’ or unconscious bias and assumptions about competence and ability

Everyone faces their own barriers in life. For people with a disability joining in with some activities often presents physical barriers, but also social and emotional barriers (opinions and attitudes of others).  

There are mainstream clubs throughout Western Australia doing amazing things for inclusion. Read the real life case study below and answer the questions.

Case study:

“I’ve been a swimmer my whole life. Never competitively, more for the fitness side of it all.  When I was a kid I did swimming lessons like everyone else. I can’t bend my right leg so for some things like breaststroke I had to make up my own style, but having a twin sister meant I couldn’t fall behind, I had to keep up. 

Once I left high school, I decided I wanted to join a swim club for the social and fitness aspects. I was looking for a non-competitive club to join, which I thought would be easy. Almost every pool in Australia runs Masters Swim clubs aimed at people over 18 who want to swim for fitness and fun rather than the competition. I thought it would be as simple as signing up, attending a few trial sessions and that would be it. I was very wrong.  

Approaching ‘mainstream’ clubs with a clearly visible physical disability meant I was pushed aside and told it would be better if I join a disability club. I was told the coaches wouldn’t be able to ‘coach me’, that the insurance would become an issue and that I might not be able to keep up with the club.  Almost a year had passed and I was almost at the point of giving up. Finally, I approached a disability sports organisation who had connections with mainstream swimming clubs and within a week I was attending my first trial session with a local swimming club.  The coaches at the club all asked me about how I go about certain strokes and any adaptations I need, which as I had told all other clubs, were very minimal, if nothing at all.

6-months passed and I was still swimming with the club. One night, everyone was doing kicking drills, a drill I struggled with as I only kick with one leg. When I first joined the club I was told I am more than welcome to use flippers when I needed them and hadn’t been questioned when I put the flippers on. On this particular night, I went to put the flippers on. The coach came over and said “no, this is a no flipper dill”. I asked if it was ok if I wore flippers and pointed to my leg- as if to use it as an excuse. The coach replied “no, you can do it without flippers”.   This was the first moment, I truly felt like I belonged at the club and I was seen as everyone else, not as the swimmer with the disability but a swimmer like everyone else in the club. 

Since joining the club I have gone on to swim the Busselton Jetty Swim and the Rottnest channel swim, achievements I would have never thought possible without having joined the club.  The club has since welcomed many more people with disabilities to the club.