Safeguarding deaf and disabled children

Last updated: 03 Jul 2015
Making sport accessible
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Increasing numbers of deaf and disabled children already enjoy taking part in sport. You should ensure that your organisation is working to safeguard them.

Despite some traditionally negative misconceptions about deaf and disabled young people, the reality is that the vast majority are ready, willing and able 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. Staff and volunteers need to be supported to understand the importance to include deaf and disabled young people in sport, appreciate the additional vulnerability of this group, and understand the steps needed to safeguard them.


Inclusion refers to steps required to allow deaf and disabled participants to access activities. This includes considering the need to adapt and modify coaching practices, equipment and aspects of the activities.

Motivated, well informed and supported coaches can often make relatively straightforward practical adaptations and modifications to create an environment that caters for many individuals' needs.

This will include making reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they deliver their services. This is so that a disabled person is not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in accessing the activities.

For example, sitting volleyball can be played by both disabled and non-disabled young people, and disability tennis offers adaptations for wheelchair users or visually impaired young people allowing additional bounces of the ball (depending on the impairment).

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.

We produced a video of this event which offers advice to sports organisations on how to break down barriers and make it easier for disabled young people to get involved in sport.


Further information and resources

What can sports clubs do?
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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
  • develop and implement an inclusion or equality policy or statement
  • take practical steps to ensure these children are appropriately and effectively included, including adapting equipment
  • meet the individual young person and their parents or carers in order to:
      • understand their particular needs, including personal or intimate care
      • 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. Some things to remember:

  • 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:
    • communication and understanding
    • safety considerations
    • 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.

Further information

For more advice, see our Safeguarding deaf and disabled children in sport multimedia learning resource. It includes videos and factsheets – such as this Autism factsheet (PDF) – that suggest some coaching ideas to ensure that these young people feel safe and happy when taking part in sport at your club.

Safeguarding deaf and disabled children
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It's very important that everyone who will be responsible for, or in contact with, young people appreciate and understand the additional vulnerability of disabled children and young people.

It’s important not to be unduly concerned about understanding everything about a person’s specific disability, condition or sensory needs. But you should consider the young person’s particular needs in the context of your sport or activity.

Steps sports clubs should take

  • promote inclusive practice and make members aware of your inclusion policy
  • talk to the young person and their parents or carers when they join the club – they’re the experts, they’ll tell you what support they need
  • if needed, seek additional advice and support from dedicated disability organisations
  • if the young person is deaf, encourage a wider interest in using some basic sign language by both young people and coaches – this will produce a wider sense of inclusion and reduce isolation

Personal and intimate care – whose responsibility is this?

It is helpful for a club to have a personal/ and intimate care policy. If additional assistance is required, this should be discussed with the young person and their parent or carer at the outset as part of an initial discussion about how the young person's needs will be met.

It should be clear to everyone at the club, including the young person and their parents or carer, that sports coaches and other volunteers should not be involved in providing intimate care for young or disabled participants. This 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 models and may help to perpetuate poor practice

For more information on good practice, see the Service Children's Education policy document, Intimate care (PDF).

Indicators and signs of abuse

Like other children, disabled children will display signs (often behavioural) when they experience abuse, 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 linking to the child’s disability and so the possibility of abuse may be overlooked or ignored, leaving the child at risk and distressed.

Individual safeguarding responsibilities

All coaches, staff and volunteers at a club should:

  • have safeguarding training and other learning opportunities at to 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:
    • use of language
    • appropriate communication methods
    • additional support and activity supervision levels 
  • 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 else 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 (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

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