Aoife Moynihan explores some of the sporting options for children with disability on the North Shore

There are 206,000 students with disability in public schools in NSW – yet many of them have trouble accessing mainstream sport at school or in the community.

Yet physical activity has been shown to have a positive outcome for the health and well-being of children with disabilities. It improves not only fitness, but also social and communication skills, and some reports have found that kids with disabilities do better at school as a result of regular exercise.

Data from the Australian Sports Commission shows that 47 per cent of children up to age 14 participated in organised outside-of- school-hours sports at least once a week in 2022.

Sports are important, but having a disability has been deemed a barrier to sports participation in almost 40,000 children up to age 14. However, there are an increasing number of organisations which cater for children with disability, with modified events and equipment to help them participate.

Sailability in Mosman’s Middle Harbour offers people with disabilities a chance to sail. It has about 40 sailors and a similar number of volunteers, including skippers.

A skipper accompanies each sailor in one of six dinghies on the second and the last Sunday of the month.

“The boats are slightly different,” organiser Sally O’Neill explains. “Because you get the sailors with disability sailing alone (once they have built up confidence), they’ve been designed (for them). There’s a joystick for steering, not a rudder at the back of the boat.”

A few people on deck duty help the sailors onto the boat with a hoist and sling, and then they head out for about 35 minutes of sailing time.

Sally says it’s empowering to get out on the water.

“Especially for those in wheelchairs,” she says. “Being out on the water is freedom from the wheelchair, and they get a lot out of that.”

Mosman Council provides the club with parking permits for the Sunday sessions, and members park on the western side of the Spit carpark. Sailing begins at around 9am and wraps up about 12.30pm.


Sailability Middle Harbour

Rainbow Club

Rainbow Club is a network of social swimming clubs in NSW for children and young adults with disabilities.

With NDIS provider status and a unique Swim the Rainbow program, children and young adults with disability receive personalised swimming lessons, water safety skills and social participation each weekend during school terms.

Rainbow Club believes that everyone has a right to learn how to swim and feel safe in the water. Its specially trained teachers base the lessons around the child’s needs.

It’s an inclusive community, and the whole family can participate in a social activity each weekend.

Rainbow Club offers three programs: Swim the Rainbow (3 to 18 years), Rainbow Squads (Competitive Stroke), and Active Moves (young adults).

North Shore Rainbow Clubs include Lane Cove, Lane Cove West and North Sydney.


Autism Swim promotes inclusive aquatics, working with swim centres, schools and surf life saving clubs.

In January this year, Warriewood Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) was the first club on the Northern Beaches to pilot the Autism Swims Dippers program.

Warriewood SLSC president John Dulieu says that children with autism often need constant supervision in the water.

“It’s like a Nippers program, except you have more one-on-one,” says John. “Nippers would have four or five water safety people per 20 kids. With Dippers, you need at least two per child.”

Autism Swim provides a clinician to support and train volunteers on how to better engage with special needs kids.

“Kids can be in the water in a safe environment,” says John. “It’s made such a difference to families.”

About 12 to 15 kids took part in the eight-week program, and John says he will rerun it if he’s club president next year and that it’s something other clubs should consider.

“We’re really proud of the club and all the volunteers because they were just absolutely fantastic,” says John.


Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) in Allambie Heights offers a wide array of sports for children with disability through the NDIS scheme. At CPA, it’s all about mobility, strength, inclusion, and friendship. Peter King, the sports development manager, tells NL that children go to CPA after school and partake in a range of activities.

“They’ll move through different sports each term,” says Peter. “Girl squad, teen squad, dance squad, multisport. And some come in for one-on-ones if there’s one sport they really want to focus on.”

CPA kids go bike riding and kayaking. Often, they combine outdoor events for an adventure day, where the team has to survive together, cope with the weather and fatigue, and learn about themselves and how to work as a team.

Peter says the benefits are enormous for the kids and CPA staff.

“The kids have fun, make friends, learn how to win and lose, try their hardest, be tired, have a medal around their neck and make a speech,” says Peter. “The kids bring so much energy and positivity every day.” Visit

CPA kids partake in many sports