Disability Support Worker, Emma, helps adults with a disability who attend the Villa Maria Catholic Homes’ (VMCH) warm–water pool program each week.
One of those people is her brother, Julian, who has a severe intellectual disability and cerebral palsy.
“I’m pretty lucky that I get to work with him weekly in the pool … as a support worker and as a sister,” she said.
“Life can be frustrating and limiting for him and I think getting in the water would relieve a lot of that. The pool is one of his favourite things.”
Julian (pictured above with Emma) is among the hundreds of people with a disability who have enjoyed the pool since it was built in the 1970s and it is for people like him that VMCH has launched its Make a Splash appeal; aimed to raise $400,000 to pay for major renovations of the pool and to transform the pool hall.
The plans include a bright mural on the pool hall’s main wall, a colourful roof canopy, a music sound system to replace an old CD player, stained glass windows looking into a lovely garden and other unique features that would make it a truly special place to visit.
Emma is excited about the plans.
“If the pool was given a facelift, we would be beside ourselves. The lives of the people we support are so restricted … they go through a lot. The water is a place for them to feel independent, free, relax and have fun,” Emma said.
“You can see it in their faces, how happy and how good they feel in the water.”
The pool is used daily by adults and children with a wide variety of disabilities who can receive one-on-one support to enjoy programs that deliver many health benefits and lots of fun.
It is accessible to people of all abilities, thanks to the dedicated VMCH staff who run the water-therapy programs, and special equipment like hoists that can assist those with even the highest needs get into the pool.
Pool therapy also gives people with physical disabilities vital health benefits. Warm water helps relax muscles and the buoyancy of the water can alleviate pain. For people with a disability that severely limits their movement, it can be a place where they can move around with little help – a liberating feeling.
The sad truth is that a lot of these children and adults would miss out on the joy of water if they did not have this swimming pool.
“The local pools don’t have appropriate equipment to get all people into the water,” Emma said
“The majority of the people who attend this service wouldn’t probably be getting in the water at a local pool.”
Students at VMCH specialist education school St Paul’s College also love the pool.
Orlando, who is 11 and has autism, is one of those students and his mum Carla says there is no doubt about how he feels about the school’s warm-water pool.
“Orlando is predominately non-verbal, he can’t verbally say he is enjoying the pool, but you can see it on his face – he smiles, he makes noises that we know are happy squealing,” Carla says.
Orlando (pictured left) has always loved the water and this once frightened his parents. But now that he can swim thanks to his time in the pool, they can rest a bit easier when they are near the water.
“Given that drowning is a leading cause of death for children with autism, I just think potentially this pool is saving lives,” Carla said.
Parents like Carla, who work hard to help their children find accessible and enjoyable activities, are very excited about this campaign.
“It’s very easy to underestimate how important something as simple as a pool is for people with disabilities. I think to donate to this pool will enable it to improve so that the children can really have that joy in life,” she said.
“If the pool undergoes a big resurrection and becomes the best it can be, I think that the children and adults who use it are going to really feel that they are valued.”
We’ll keep you updated on the progress of our fundraising for this exciting project.