Swim School For Everyone!

YMCA Auckland offers swimming lessons for people of all ages and abilities

YMCA Auckland is dedicated to enriching the lives of everyone that comes into contact with the organisation, no matter who they are. It is this philosophy of acceptance that is behind the YMCA Auckland Swim School’s Access and Inclusion Programme, which aims to provide an equal opportunity for all people to participate in aquatic activities, regardless of their ability, age, culture or background.

The special programme was developed with the goal of removing barriers to participation that could keep some Aucklanders out of the water, or from being part of a swim school. The programme aims to enable all people access to a swimming programme in an inclusive environment that recognises and celebrates their individual abilities. There is even funding available for those that would like to take part, but could otherwise not afford to participate.

The Access and Inclusion Programme began at Lagoon Pool and Leisure Centre managed by YMCA, and was implemented by the centre’s Swim School Manager Helen Vann, who developed an awareness of the range of disability issues around learning to swim and water safety while studying towards a Bachelor of Human Services in 2005.

“There was a definite gap in what swim schools were providing to people who had a disability,” Helen says. “All too often, individuals were excluded from swimming lessons due to behavioural or physical issues, or sometimes just a lack of awareness, or programme inflexibility.”

There are currently 57 students enrolled in Access and Inclusion programmes, which are now offered at all of YMCA Auckland’s aquatic sites. While some programmes are one-on-one, and others group lessons, each is flexible and adaptable, providing support as required.

“If at first you don’t succeed, adjust what you are doing and find another way,” Helen says, explaining their approach.

Each of the programmes cater to people on a case-by-case basis. Water safety is a key element across the board and there is a focus on helping people learn to swim when possible. The programmes also work to improve muscular and strength endurance; develop motor skills and balance; improve self-confidence; and increase fitness, health and wellbeing.

Along with learning valuable swimming and water safety skills, the programme is also about developing skills like hand-eye coordination, balance and movement. Many participants have also gone from supported classes and private lessons to regular Swim School sessions with peers in their age group.

It’s also a lot of fun! “The swimmers enjoy participating in lessons and learning new skills,” Helen says. “They always look forward to attending and it gives family members a nice break too.”

Feedback about the programme has been extremely positive. Participants love the helpful staff, who go out of their way to recognise the needs of those involved and understand the best ways to encourage them so that they reach their full potential. The swimmers also have great things to say about the programmes, which are seen as engaging, adaptable to their needs, and accommodating to everyone with a disability. No matter what the participants require, the staff at YMCA Auckland will find a programme to suit them and help them achieve their goals in the water.

“Parents regularly give positive feedback on the programme and the benefits it has to their children, not only in the pool, but also out of it,” Helen says. “Children learn skills in the pool and transfer them to land; a number of children have taken their first steps in the pool.”

Looking to the future of the programme, YMCA Auckland is currently working with Halberg Disability Sport Foundation to deliver NETs (No Exceptions Training) to all their staff. This reflects their goals of increasing knowledge on inclusion and universal design, to help drive industry awareness and make YMCA Auckland facilities and staff even better than they already are, and, in the process, help and include more members of the community.

The Access and Inclusion programme has made a real difference to the lives of those involved, and shows YMCA Auckland’s dedication to building stronger kids, families and communities, no matter what.

YMCA Auckland media contact
Sophia Berry-Smith
09 629 4213 or 021 029 78574