Safeguarding deaf and disabled children

Last updated: 03 Jul 2015
Making sport accessible
Shot 4 1060

Increasing numbers of deaf and disabled children already enjoy taking part in sport. You should ensure that your organisation is working to safeguard them.

The vast majority of deaf and disabled children and young people are able and willing to participate in sport when they have access to facilities and appropriately trained staff to support them.

A young sitting-volleyball player said:

"Try and make sport more inclusive for disabled children - have a lot more sports they can play in school. Sitting volleyball is a great one because it can be played by all."


Sports and activity providers have a responsibility to ensure that they take steps to include and safeguard deaf and disabled children. 

Inclusion refers to steps required to ensure that deaf and disabled young people are able to participate and access activities.

This includes considering:

  • the need to make practical adaptations and modifications to coaching practices and equipment to create an environment that caters for many individuals' needs
  • staff and volunteers need to be supported to understand how to effectively include deaf and disabled young people and appreciate the additional vulnerability of this group
  • making reasonable adjustments to aspects of the activities, so that a disabled person is not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people

What disabled children and young people want

We arranged for a group of disabled young people to meet with GB Wheelchair Basketball player Ade Adepitan to talk about challenges they have faced when trying to get involved in sport activities and we filmed this meeting.

This short film offers advice to sports organisations on how to break down barriers and make it easier for disabled young people to get involved in sports activities. 

Safeguarding deaf and disabled children
Wheelchair basketball 15

Everyone who is responsible for, or in contact with, young people should be aware of the additional vulnerability of disabled children and young people.

You don't need to understand every aspect of a person’s specific disability, condition or sensory needs, however you should consider their particular needs when planning your activity.

Indicators and signs of abuse

Like other children, disabled children will display signs (often behavioural) when they experience abuse, signs such as:

  • mood swings
  • changes in demeanour
  • fear of a particular individual

However, aspects of their disability or sensory needs may make it harder for these to be recognised. These signs may be interpreted as a characteristic of the child’s disability and possible abuse may be overlooked, leaving the child at risk and vulnerable.

Personal and intimate care – whose responsibility is this?

Personal care responsibilities for disabled athletes should be discussed with the young person and their parent or carer as part of an initial discussion about the young athlete's needs. Sports clubs should outline disabled athletes personal and intimate care responsibilities within a policy, detailing if additional assistance is required.

These responsibilities should be clear to everyone at the club, the young person and their parents or carer, that sports coaches and volunteers should not be involved in providing intimate care for young or disabled participants. This care should always be the responsibility of the parents, carers or other identified care staff or volunteers.

Reasons for this include:

  • it puts the child in a potentially vulnerable position
  • there is a potential negative impact on the young person’s privacy and dignity
  • sports staff are unlikely to be trained to carry out this role and it isn’t their role
  • it can impact on the level of adult supervision for the remainder of the group
  • the adult may be vulnerable to others misinterpreting their behaviour or motivation, which may result in concerns or allegations arising
  • it can reinforce the child’s helplessness and lack of autonomy
  • it may perpetuate poor practice

For more information on good practice, see the Service Children's Education inimate care policy.

Individual safeguarding responsibilities

All coaches, staff and volunteers at a club should:

  • have safeguarding training outlining how and why deaf and disabled children are additionally vulnerable to abuse, and what steps can be taken to address this
  • consider the implications for coaching approaches:
    1. use of language
    2. appropriate communication methods
    3. additional support is provided for the activity
  • ensure access to safeguarding information for the young person 
  • be clear about how the coach (and the disabled young person) should bring any concerns to the attention of the club welfare officer or someone with safeguarding responsibilities
  • fully understand and work to the club’s safeguarding policies and procedures
  • be clear about expectations of their own and other people’s behaviour, and about their responsibility to report concerns that arise
  • ensure that the children and young people, in their care, are aware of behaviour that will not be tolerated (such as, codes of conduct, anti-bullying policy, etc.)
  • ensure appropriate supervision of the group both during activities and at other times, such as in changing rooms
What can sports clubs do?
Wheelchair athletics 3

There are a number of things you and your sports club or organisation can do to make sport as accessible as possible.

To ensure your organisation or club is accessible to all, you should:

  • provide a welcoming environment for all participants
  • develop and implement an inclusion or equality policy or statement
  • take practical steps to ensure deaf and disabled children are appropriately and effectively included, including adapting equipment or activities
  • meet the individual young person and their parents or carers in order to:
    1. understand their particular needs, including personal or intimate care responsibilities
    2. agree how the young person will be supported
    3. consider their additional vulnerability 
    4. ensure that arrangements made address both inclusion and safeguarding requirements 

Remember, the young person is the expert. They are more likely to know what their needs are and how they can be supported. Communication is key.

Tips for coaches

Special skills or knowledge are not always needed to coach disabled participants. However, it's important for coaches to understand something about the implications and impact of a disability or sensory need for a particular child, so that their individual needs will be addressed.

Points to consider:

  • apply the basic principles of good coaching practice 
  • assess and address each participant’s individual aspirations and needs
  • talk to the participant (and parents) first, they are the experts
  • understand the implications of the particular disability or sensory need for the specific activity
  • informed by the assessment, consider:
    1. communication and understanding
    2. safety considerations
    3. other practical issues, such as removing hearing aids or cochlear implants before playing contact sports (if required), or adapting equipment
  • focus on what the participant is able to do
  • set realistic and challenging goals, as you would for all participants

Also remember that athletes with similar disabilities may nevertheless have very different needs. There is no magic formula for inclusive coaching.

The key is to keep communicating with those who are being coached.


A wide range of resources is available to help you make sport more accessible for all children and young people.

CPSU resources and guidance

Wider NSPCC resources

Other resources and training