News & Media

Access for all abilities at regional aquatic centre

21 October 2020

A leisure centre in the heart of regional Victoria offers more than your standard fitness experience.

The Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre kicked off 2020 by launching sensory quiet times and sensory-friendly programs across its centre.

Sensory quiet periods reduce anxiety and sensory stress for people who value quieter, less stimulating environments. Aside from dimming the lights, turning down the radio and encouraging other patrons to keep noise to a minimum for a set period, the centre has also introduced sensory balance play, water playgroup and private swimming lessons for people with sensory sensitivities.

Woman stands next to a swimming pool.
Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre's Leanne White. PHOTO: Ballarat Courier

“Our team takes pride in the accessibility of our centre,” BALC Centre Manager Gerald Dixon says.

“We’re always on the lookout for initiatives that will improve the centre and our programs to meet the needs of all members of the community.”

The sensory quiet times were developed with feedback from, and in consultation with, members and users of the Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre, as well as the Central Highlands NDIS Local Area Coordination Service, Sports Central and the Ballarat Autism Network.

“We work closely with our key stakeholders to increase accessibility to the centre and the independence and confidence of people of all abilities,” Mr Dixon says.

“We know sensory-friendly environments are essential to many people with an autism spectrum disorder and their families, and we’re delighted to provide regular sensory quiet timeslots for our patrons.”

Lights are dimmed, music and announcements turned off (unless there’s an emergency) and signage placed at the front desk 10 minutes before each sensory quiet session begins. Patrons can attend a gymnastics class, aquatic lesson or have a casual swim in a quiet environment, with two sensory-friendly group change rooms available during this time.

As part of its inclusive approach, the centre also ensures customers have consistent swimming teachers and gymnastic coaches wherever possible. Processes are in place to alert customers if there are last-minute changes due to illness or emergency.

“We’ve implemented a weekly staff catch-up to share learnings from these inclusive initiatives and discuss opportunities to improve,” Mr Dixon says.

“Feedback from staff and our customers is crucial – this will inform the future look of our sensory quiet times and other accessible features at the centre.”

Front cover of report.

Keen to learn more about accessibility and inclusion?

Latrobe Community Health Service has released a discussion paper for any organisation looking to better include people with disability. Improving accessibility and inclusivity of people with disability in a community and mainstream setting is based on the voices of 600 Australians living with disability and their carers. Download the full report here.