The social power of reverse inclusion

Posted on 18 December 2017
The social  power of reverse inclusion

Picture: Two members of the Suncoast Spinners wheelchair basketball team

Bridie Kean credits her part in the Suncoast Spinners' "reverse inclusion" program as one of her greatest contributions to a sport she loves deeply. "People's perceptions of disability are changed," Bridie Kean says of the biggest plus of the program. "We associate wheelchairs with people not being able to walk, and suddenly it's a piece of sporting equipment."

"People realise that what wheelchairs can do in sport and in life is enable people to do the things they want to do, as opposed to being a device that holds you back. We're giving people the ability to play, and the flow-on effect is we've realised everyone wants to play our game, because it's awesome."

The Suncoast Spinners wheelchair basketball team is based at the University of Sunshine Coast (USC) near Maroochydore in Queensland. As recipients of an Information Linkages and Capacity Building Grant from the NDIA in 2017, The Spinners will run 32 reverse inclusion workshops in schools, universities and with community groups.

Reverse inclusion is important because it puts people with disability in the position of 'social power', of setting the norms and standards within a particular social context (in this case basketball), with the onus then being on able-bodied people to adjust to those norms and standards. This is 'reverse' to the typical social environments that exist in recreational (and other) spaces, in which able-bodied people set the norms and standards to which people living with disability must try to fit in with.

The Suncoast Spinners' basketball workshops are focused on the common abilities of people, providing a fun experience that helps to break down misconceptions of disability. This supports attitudinal change to eradicate barriers to inclusion, and engages the whole community to provide equitable, inclusive and accessible sports.

An unexpected offshoot of the Suncoast Spinners workshops has been the participation of able-bodied youngsters who have previously faced their own challenges around inclusion, including a group of teenagers who followed a classmate that uses a wheelchair into the program. "They're boys who hadn't previously been able to fit in with normal sporting programs, but they come here and they fit in, they love it, they have fun. It's all about acceptance and giving everyone a go," says Spinners club secretary, Sharon Hill.

Seeing the Australian women play basketball at the Sydney Paralympic Games changed Bridie's outlook on sport for people with disabilities. "Discovering wheelchair basketball was a way that I could be an athlete and just have my ability focused on, rather than what I couldn't do."

Bridie lists her career highlight as captaining Australia to silver at the London Games. She's now pursuing "other sporting interests", which includes "playing a little bit of tennis". Hannah Dodd, who competed in equestrian at London 2012 before taking up basketball, laughs at the understatement. "She'll play tennis for Australia in Tokyo (2020) for sure."

Until then she'll continue her work at USC researching and implementing sport and disability programs. Through reverse inclusion she's giving back big time, and loving the impact that bringing newcomers to the sport is having.