Changing perceptions through inclusivity.
The Alumni Aquatic Center in Antigonish, or as many students know it; the pool inside of the Oland building, has a program that has taken place over the past few years known as the Adaptive Swimming Program. It was developed to give elementary and high school students from the Antigonish community who have varying disabilities a chance to get one on one swimming instruction. It encourages an inclusive and adaptive environment with students, teachers, and instructors to work together.
One of these initiatives is the “Aquatics for Tots," a one on one session of swimming lessons and activities, taught by an array of students. The program is attached to two courses, “Designing intervention for population health” and “instructional strategies," the former being part of the Human Kinetics Department and the latter being part of the Education Department. We were invited by human kinetics professor, Dr. Amanda Casey, and aquatic coordinator, Bethany Theuerkauf to come see first-hand exactly what this program entails.
Casey explained the program in thorough detail. “I believe that every child in our community should and can have an equal opportunity to learn to be in the water," continuing with, “We are trying to create the least restrictive environment possible and provide maximum support.” She elaborated on this topic by enthusiastically drawing out a diagram. “This program is not about holding anyone back because children have an unlimited amount of potential. Our instructors can assess and know how much support a child needs to succeed, whether it be a little more or a little less. The most important thing is that every child realizes their potential.”
“The new program, ‘Aquatics for tots’, is about socializing kids at a young age so they learn and understand each other”, Dr. Casey explained. “ The children, whether they happen to have a disability or whether they happen to be afraid of the water, are children first and foremost. Anyone can swim in this program and we will help anyone to the fullest of our capabilities to make sure that they are included”. Dr. Casey emphasized that, “nobody needs to be isolated. By showing kids at a young age that this is normal, they will carry that knowledge throughout their lives.”
She explained that inclusivity “changes perceptions for the better” and even gave us a story for an example. “We once had a boy here who swam all the time and was pretty amazing. Once he challenged a football player who volunteered with us to a little race. Now the boy who loved to swim happened to have autism. When the two got into the pool and began racing, the boy smoked the football player. It wasn’t even close. The football player got out of the pool and told me ‘you said that he happened to have autism, not that he was Michael Phelps.’ You see, that’s an example of changing perceptions.”
The Alumni Aquatics Center has already taken steps to create an environment that is built for a large range of disabilities. Aquatic Director Theuerkauf explained there are many devices implemented in order to make the pool accessible for everyone. Theuerkauf explained, “Kids can move around in the water more freely while enjoying themselves and learn a very valuable skill while doing it; that being swimming of course."
As we were leaving we spoke with Will O’Dwyer, a fourth year Human Kinetics student who had just finished working in the pool. “I started teaching kids last year and it has been amazing learning experience," he told us. “In the pool you work not only with children who happen to have disabilities but with their siblings and families as well”. O’Dwyer continued by saying "this creates a unique environment where you have to make sure that everyone is reaching their full potential. It is important to open up our perceptions because these kids are capable of anything, and it’s our job as a community to help them along the way.”