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Suggested guidelines when considering inclusive aquatic activities

This is an excerpt from Inclusive Physical Activity, Second Edition by Susan Kasser and Rebecca Lytle.


With Inclusive Physical Activity learn how to outline a systematic approach to planning and implementing appropriate programs for individuals of varying abilities.

Implications for Aquatic Activity Practitioners

The role of the aquatics instructor is to teach individuals skills that will allow them to enjoy and be safe in and around aquatic environments. In doing so, participants can have fun and take part in aquatic activities that promote health and maintain functional abilities across the life span. A quality aquatics program includes information regarding rules (e.g., safety), instruction in a variety of swimming strokes, and opportunities to explore different recreational activities. We recommend the following guidelines when considering inclusive aquatic activities:

  • An aquatics program should provide participants with knowledge and skills that will allow them to participate in activities safely. This includes introducing them to safety rules, appropriate use of equipment, and various swimming techniques. According to Columna (2011), when instructors assess the present level of performance of individuals with disabilities in aquatic environments, they should include the cognitive domain to determine what the individual knows about aquatic environments. In other words, instructors can assess knowledge of rules and appropriate equipment and can ask participants to verbally and physically demonstrate different swimming strokes.
  • Along with teaching rules and safety, participants should be familiarized with the aquatic settings and recreational opportunities that they might access. If we take another look at Langendorfer and Bruya’s water competence model (figure 11.2), we see that participants may learn to swim, but they may also learn basic skills for underwater swimming, competitive swimming, synchronized swimming, water games, or sailing. For individuals with greater functional ability, serving as an instructor, lifeguard assistant, or lifeguard might also be options.
  • To be water competent, individuals should be taught fundamental aquatic readiness skills (figure 11.4). In other words, before trying to teach a participant different swimming strokes, the instructor must not only teach basic aquatic skills but also ensure that the individual is behaviorally and internally ready to learn them. This readiness should be assessed for several reasons. First, participants’ attitudes toward physical activity—including aquatics—can determine how motivated they are to be physically active. Second, participants must interact with other participants, which—depending on their ability—can involve many other affective factors (Columna, 2011).
  • As we have mentioned, when trying to apply the FAMME model in aquatic environments, one of the first things to consider are factors related to the individual participant. These considerations include knowing the present level of performance of the participant (what he or she can do), the particular aquatic interests of the participant, and any aquatic experience the participant has had. For instance, does the individual feel comfortable in the water? Is he or she afraid of waves? Has he or she been exposed to a pool, lake, river, or ocean? It might be that the individual has had experience with a body of water that has influenced his or her comfort level in similar water.
  • Transferring from the pool deck into the pool can be challenging for some individuals with physical or mobility differences. Thus instructors must identify what type of device (e.g., chair, crutches, and walker) the participant uses to move as well as how independently or what level of assistance the participant may need to access the water. For some, transfers are a critical component of aquatic instruction and must be considered when working with individuals with disabilities.

There are different types of transfers and transfer techniques. Knowing the appropriate body mechanics and steps to follow when undertaking a transfer is key to increasing safety and minimizing the risk of injury for everyone involved. Practitioners unfamiliar with how to safely and effectively assist participants with transfers should collaborate with physical therapists or other health care providers well versed in these techniques for guidance and practice. Conversely, for participants with high functional ability, strength, and coordination, aquatics instructors should become knowledgeable of the different transferring techniques and spend time teaching these techniques to those individuals who will be able to independently transfer (Columna, 2011; Lepore, Gayle, & Stevens, 2007). Beyond person-assisted transfers, an array of equipment is available that can facilitate access to the water (figure 11.5). Pool lifts, ramps, transfer walls, stairs, mats, and zero depth (movable) floors can also help a participant transition from the pool deck to the water. However, as independent as a person may be, it still remains important to provide instruction on how to use these devices safely.


Read more from Inclusive Physical Activity, Second Edition by Susan Kasser and Rebecca Lytle.


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