Robbie Veneziano and I have been using sport to promote inclusion and acceptance for the last four years. Their program has reached more than 40 schools and organizations, with sessions being delivered to nearly 5,000 students over the last 12 months alone.
The program highlights the fact that everyone experiences individual challenges and has feelings of being different or excluded from time to time. Veneziano and Hay’s goal is to help kids understand the importance of feeling valued, included and treated equally. “Kids are at a formative stage, so if we can embed the idea that it’s good to include people and that everyone is equal, that’s a really good start,” the pair explain.
Playing games Three different games are played during the sessions, and each can include kids of all ages and abilities. Because games are an integral part of childhood, they allow teachers and parents to attach the message of inclusion to fun activities.
In other words—if this behaviour can be created while children are young, it will shape social change down the track and inform the way people behave towards each other.
An ordinary guy
We believe that acceptance of difference benefits everyone. “We are all different,” they say, “and understanding each other’s experiences can broaden our minds.” As well as the longer-term impacts of more inclusion, the pair see immediate changes, too. When kids without experience of knowing someone with a disability first meet Robbie Veneziano they often show visibly obvious expressions and postures, and make comments. Their behaviours communicate an initial uncertainty, curiosity or even apprehension around disability.
As the games and discussions progress, there is a very clear shift. Kids smile and chat with Veneziano as just an ordinary guy who is capable, articulate and fun to be around, as well as a father, sportsman and, interestingly enough, a person who happens to have a disability.
A powerful message
Together we equip schools with a kit to deliver inclusive games within the curriculum, that offers opportunities to play games at lunch or during recess. Conducting teacher training also reinforces inclusion for staff, and helps them to develop the skills to confidently promote these concepts, rather than viewing people with disabilities as different and vulnerable. The program demonstrates that those with disabilities can have a really full life. That is powerful.v
Jason Hay is with Abilities Links midnorth coast, New South Wales, Australia.