Back to an inclusive future through State Network connections by: Student Journalist

Back to an inclusive future through State Network connections Australian powerlifter Abebe Fekadu (in blue), speaking with a group of forum attendees

With the premise of the NDIS being to ensure greater social and economic participation of people with a disability in community life, individuals are seeking a wider range of options for connecting to their communities, including through sport and recreation.

The Sports CONNECT Queensland Network, coordinated by Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, is a committed group of state sport and recreation organisations and disability service providers who are working towards ensuring that people of all abilities have the same choices as everyone else to join sport and recreation communities.

The annual state forum, held at Souths Leagues Club on 28 March, attracted 84 participants who looked at successful historical examples of inclusion in sport and recreation in order to drive the Network vision for an inclusive future for people of all abilities in Queensland.

Representatives from the state bodies for bowls, surf lifesaving and AFL provided valuable insights into their strategies for the inclusion of people from across different parts of the community.

Brett Wilkie, CEO Bowls Queensland, spoke about the organisation’s think tank group who identified that short, sharp initial engagement was vital to catch people’s attention across the age spectrum; which the sport has now achieved through their Jack Attack, Junior Jack Attack and Barefoot Bowls programs.

Speaking about the ‘On the Same Wave’ program, Scott Harrison, Community Awareness and Multicultural Programs Coordinator for Surf Life Saving Queensland, outlined the importance of “doing your research” about the community group you are aiming to include in your programs and then engaging in “constructive dialogue” with them to ensure you identify any barriers to participation.

“It is important that we all embrace the multifaceted dimension of Australian life,” Harrison said, “What we take for granted may be a whole new experience for someone.”

Long-standing Network member, Christian Hunt, Facilities Coordinator – North for AFL Queensland, highlighted the significance of first impressions. He noted that sporting organisations need to look at their culture, values and beliefs to show people from the outset that “we value you and we’re prepared to make an effort to change and bring you in”.

Hunt also encouraged sports to remember that including new groups in the community is “not just about participation in the game but also about running the sport” so consider all possible ways people can contribute.

Athletes Abebe Fekadu, Chantal Simpson, Andrea Dundas, Sekou Kanneh and Carla Nitz shared their stories of participation in sport, reinforcing the importance of the focus on inclusive sporting communities, and emphasising the impact on people’s lives when it’s done well.

Feedback from forum participants suggests that sport and the disability sector “have come a long way – it proves that change is possible”.

“Changes were directed by a driven group that had vision” and “inspirational results (were achieved) by including, participating, listening, recognising role models, and being open to do things differently.”

Most importantly, success was “underpinned by people feeling like they belong and are part of the community through sport.”

The Sports CONNECT Queensland Network is ready to assist organisations to build partnerships to realise this vision.

The Network is underpinned by the Association’s Sports CONNECT Education and Game Changer Ambassador Programs, which provide an additional platform for promoting inclusive practices.

If you would like to know more about the Sports CONNECT Queensland Network, Education Program or Game Changers, please contact Jenny Frowd on (07) 3253 3333 or

By: Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association