Safeguarding deaf and disabled children

Last updated: 03 Jul 2015
Safeguarding responsibilities

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

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. 

Learn more about child abuse in a sport setting and some other signs to look out for in the sporting environment. 

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 methods: use of language, appropriate communication and 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 are aware of behaviour that will not be tolerated, making sure they have access to the codes of conduct and anti-bullying policy
  • ensure appropriate supervision of the group both during activities and at other times (such as in changing rooms)

For further information on protecting deaf and disabled children and young people, including the risks and vulnerability factors, legislation and guidance, visit NSPCC Learning.

Further resources

Practical steps

The section covers the practical steps sports clubs can take to address and support disabled children and young people.

Personal and intimate care – whose responsibility is this?

Personal care responsibilities for disabled athletes should be discussed with the individual and their parents or carers as part of an initial discussion regarding their needs. Sports club should outline the disabled athletes personal and intimate care responsibilities within a policy, detailing if assistance is required.

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

Hidden disabilities

There are many different types of hidden disability that affect children and young people who may be involved in sport. These types of disability are not easily identified or recognised, unless a person is working closely alongside someone with this impairment or information is disclosed.

Hidden disabilities or impairments may include:

  • autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism
  • attention disorders (ADD/ADHD)
  • epilepsy
  • brain injury
  • Crohn’s disease
  • sickle cell anaemia
  • diabetes

These disabilities are not always obvious to the onlooker and can sometimes limit daily activities. They can range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.

How sport can be inclusive of hidden disabilities

Because of the variation in indicators it is not possible to generalise about how hidden disabilities may affect children and young people.

There are a range of ways that coaches, staff and volunteers can help support and integrate those with hidden disabilities:

  • treat each participant as an individual
  • talk to the participant and their carers – they are the experts
  • understand the implications of the particular disability for each activity (such as, effective communication, safety considerations, practical issues - like removing hearing aids)
  • focus on what the participant is able to do
  • assess each participant’s aspirations, needs and ability and plan accordingly (include adaptations to equipment or activity)
  • set realistic and challenging goals as you would for all participants

Learning difficulties and intellectual impairments

People with an intellectual impairment have more difficulty than their peers in learning and may need support to develop new skills, process and understand complex information, and interact with other people.

Meet with the young person and their parents to understand the impact of their intellectual impairment:

  • clarify the type of support the young person needs in terms of their communication, social skills and sports participation
  • consider arranging a ‘practice’ session with the young person and 2 or 3 other young people who you know will give support
  • don't make assumptions about what a person can or cannot do, or what they understand
  • be prepared to allow more time for instructions and demonstrations, or to deliver messages in smaller chunks, more frequently; repetition will be very useful to ensure learning and create stability within a series of sessions.
Making sport accessible

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."

Challenges for deaf and disabled young people when participating in sport

Some common challenges that deaf and disabled children may face when getting involved in sport include:

  • lack of early experiences in sport
  • lack of understanding and awareness of how to include people with a disability
  • limited opportunities and programmes for participation, training, and competition
  • lack of accessible facilities
  • limited accessible transportation
  • limiting psychological and sociological factors including attitudes towards disability from parents, coaches, teachers and even people with disabilities themselves
  • limited access to information and resources


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
  • ensuring visible role models for deaf and disabled young people, use of diverse imagery in your club and on your website

Often people think that inclusion means everyone does everything in the same environment, with the same rules, the same equipment, and the same people - and this might be the case. But being inclusive is about creating something meaningful for everyone involved, so actually being inclusive means thinking about a spectrum of types of activity where people can be in:

  • an open session - rules, equipment and environment are the same for everyone
  • a parallel session - children are in the same environment but doing different sessions
  • a modified session - all children are in the same environment but things are changed so that everyone gets something challenging from the session. For example, the rules are changed slightly for some individuals
  • a specific session - might be specifically for people with certain functional abilities, sport classifications, or impairments

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. 

What can sports clubs do?

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

Individuals needs

Meet with the child or young person and their parents or carers in order to:

  • understand their particular needs, including personal or intimate care responsibilities
  • agree how the young person will be supported
  • consider their additional vulnerability 
  • 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 
  • 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
  • focus on what the participant is able to do
  • set realistic and challenging goals, as you would for all participants
  • assess and address each participant’s individual aspirations and needs
  • assess and consider: communication and understanding, safety considerations and other practical issues (such as removing hearing aids or adapting equipment

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

Training and other resources