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From SaintsPlay to a Saints Sensory room, St Kilda football club is taking sport and recreation for people with disabilities to a whole new level of participation.
You can't be what you can't see, and people who experience high sensory stimulation often don't get the opportunity to see and experience events such as a live AFL game, music festivals, art and culture spaces and many other public events that occur in loud, crowded spaces.
Accessibility advocates and event leaders are demonstrating that these barriers can be more easily overcome by offering attendees the opportunity to retreat to a sensory safe space. The recent 2019 AbilityFest organised by Australian sporting hero, Dylan Alcott featured the ANZ sensory zone. NRL’s West Tigers, and AFL’s Hawthorn, St Kilda, and Geelong Football Clubs have also got on board to deliver inclusive spaces that cater for children and adults with sensory sensitivities. And Banyule City Council and many other local councils, are supporting their community with resources to assist them in creating festivals and events that are sensory friendly and more inclusive in a move that encourages the need for inclusion to exist regardless of the size and nature of the event.
In the recent Sport Inclusion Community of Practice to celebrate World Autism Day, Western Bulldogs VFLW player and founder of Active Support, Elise Muller, talked about the value of having choice to enable her to fully embrace her talents as proud Aboriginal Australian on the autism spectrum. Her experience playing with the VFLW was greatly enhanced by the understanding, support and permission to access spaces, supports and behaviours that allowed her to be herself. Often the experience of knowing that that facilities, such as sensory safe space, was there, reduced her need to utilise them at all. Overcoming sensory, processing and anxiety struggles, on her 3rd VFLW game Elise was voted one of Bulldogs best on ground players.
The move by AFL Victoria and other inclusive organisations is an encouraging development for people with disabilities as the understanding and awareness of the needs of people with disabilities grows. As major organisations lead by example to show the huge impact small adaptation can achieve, it paves the way for a truly all abilities attitude in every day life.