Teaching water safety and ensuring no family misses out on its benefits are two of the key elements of a program designed to empower, as Kathleen Bates, Senior Autism Spectrum Disorder/Special Needs Aquatics Specialist and Coach, Qatar Foundation, said.
When Qatar Foundation launched its Ability-Friendly Swimming Program, delivering customized and private swimming lessons, in January 2019, we had one swimming coach and 21 students.
But the program became very popular almost instantly and, since then, we have offered more than 6,000 individual swimming lessons with five full-time specialized and professional coaches. The growth of the program has been tremendous, and the demand and interest from the community has continued to increase as well.
When the program began, we were focusing on the autism community, but within just a few months we slightly changed our strategy to become more inclusive.
In September 2019, our program became fully inclusive of all abilities and specific needs. We are proud to have participants in our program that have cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, Down syndrome, spinal cord injuries, visual impairments, autism and learning difficulties, and more. We are thrilled that we are able to offer unique and bespoke lessons for people of all abilities from the age of four years upwards.
The swimming program is unique and important. While its goal is to teach people how to swim, the most important aspect is that we are teaching water safety. Drowning is the number one cause of death amongst the autism community, and we can totally prevent this through basic water safety instruction. Through this program, we can save a life.
We have heard numerous times over the past year how certain children now react differently to water after being involved in our program. They are understanding that it can be dangerous and are demonstrating their water safety skills and awareness to their families.
Our program includes five different levels of swimming, from beginner up through competitive swimming as well as stroke refinement and modification. Regardless of your age, ability and/or level swimming, we can accommodate you.
As the program became more inclusive of all abilities, we needed to consider financial inclusion as well. While our classes are intended to be affordably-priced, we did not want the program fees to be a barrier to entry for anybody who could benefit from participating in our program.
The Qader Award was introduced as a financial tool to be able to provide funding to families who would not otherwise be able to participate in the program.
It was launched in September 2019 and we currently have 21 families actively participating in our swimming and football programs at no cost to them. These families have been dedicated and committed to the program. This program is very important to them, and without the award they would not be able to participate.
The second cycle of the Qader Award will be launched in early April and families will be encouraged to apply for financial support for either our Ability Friendly Football or Swimming Program. If you are an award recipient then you will receive a full academic year of either swimming or football at no cost.
As we look ahead to what is next for our Ability Friendly Swimming Program, we have several key goals. We hope to introduce a competition squad and the training that accompanies it; we have taught hundreds of people how to swim, and we would like to teach some of them how to compete.
We would love for QF to have the first ever ability friendly competitive swimming team and be able to represent QF and Qatar in local and international swimming competitions.
We are also aware that we will not be able to teach everybody in the country, and so we will be starting to develop a coach-the-coach model, similar to that which our Ability Friendly Football Program is working on.
The goal will be able to provide specialized and professional level training to other certified swimming coaches in the country.
This will help to spread the impact and reach of this model across Qatar.
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