Ability Links Linkers work closely with people to support them to fulfil their hopes and dreams. They have a can-do attitude in connecting people with community, to gain employment and to achieve their goals.
Ability Links is a different approach to supporting people, their families and carers in the community, and to supporting communities to be as welcoming and socially inclusive as possible.
Ability “Linkers” work with people aged 7 – 64, their families, carers and communities to help them get to where they want to be so they are able to live fulfilling and inclusive lives. They do this by placing participants at the centre of decision making about the lifestyle choices they want to make. Linkers listen with empathy and understanding. They build networks of knowledge and supports. They open up connections and opportunities, and they are passionate about what they do.
People come to Ability Links with different goals and needs and at different points in their lives. There is no assessment process or other eligibility criteria that people need to meet to access the Ability Links program. Anyone can contact a Linker whenever they need to, whether it be for information or to work together for a short period to achieve a particular goal or dream.
The “Sports Ability” project, one of many delivered by the Mid Coast Communities Ability Links team on the Mid North Coast, is teaching students and community members the value of inclusion and giving students of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy sport.
Initially an early intervention initiative aimed at students from Kindergarten to Year Six and staff from across the region, the project teaches skills of how to play inclusive games. The games are tailored so that participants are all on a level playing field. An example is seated volleyball, where everyone sits down to hit the ball over the net. Instead of trying to beat each other, everyone is trying to work together and hit it over. There is also bell-ball (or goalball) where everyone is blindfolded and there is a bell in the ball that is thrown to each other.
Now in its fourth year, the program has been developed further to suit high schools and participants from other not-for-profit organisations (such as Wesley Mission, Key Employment, PCYC etc.) with sports such as wheelchair balloon soccer and basketball.
More than 45 schools and organisations having participated so far, reaching more than 6,000 students. The geographic area covered on the Mid North Coast stretches from Maclean in the north to Taree in the south and out to Hernani, Dundurrabin and the Orara Valley in the west. All schools receive a free kit, so that teachers can continue to offer inclusive games in the curriculum with the sports equipment provided.
The aim is to deliver inclusive sports sessions to students and staff at a local level, and at a relatively young age, and to resource schools with the equipment and training to continue offering inclusive sports to all students. The Ability Links staff teach children about disability, inclusion, the capacity of people with disability and the value of treating each other equally because we’re all different. It’s about raising awareness around inclusiveness, but also about breaking down the barriers with disabilities and getting kids to feel comfortable around people of all ability levels.
This ultimately broadens students’ awareness, and their acceptance of people with disabilities. Local schools have greatly benefitted from the fun and dynamic inclusive sports training and a free inclusive sports kit. Meeting and speaking with program facilitator Robbie Veneziano has a positive effect on the school groups; he is a strong and positive role model.
“I was born with my disability, so I’ve obviously been through it as a child. In my day we never had these inclusive sports, so a lot of times when I was at school l would have to miss out; I would have to watch all of the kids play, and it was quite lonely being on the sidelines all the time. If I had this program when I was going to school, I think it would have been really fantastic for me. I would have been able to participate in many more games with the kids and also I guess on a relationship level they would have felt much more comfortable around me from the early stages of getting to know me.”
Principals have given feedback about the program:
“It was wonderful to see the students actively engaged in inclusive activities that we as teachers are now aware of, that we can include in our sports and health programs that would be inclusive for all.“
“It was really important for our students to meet such strong role models. Using sport to show how individuals can engage with community and succeed, no matter what life throws at you, was a very accessible message – particularly for our young men. They saw Robbie’s talent and strength, and I have no doubt that they left with a greater appreciation and respect for people of all abilities.”
You can contact a Linker whenever you need to. There is no formal assessment process or referral needed to meet in order to access Ability Links NSW.
Individuals, clubs, groups and businesses can also access Ability Links NSW for information and support on how to become more inclusive and welcoming for people of all abilities in the community.
For more information about the Ability Links program, contact Anna Thompson, Program Manager: Ability and Inclusion, at Mid Coast Communities on (02) 6651 1788.