Disability awareness

Our volunteers help swimmers with a variety of disabilities. Here are just a few hints and tips about some of the disabilities that some of our swimmers have, to help you understand what to expect when you join as a volunteer.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system (the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord). It is an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system incorrectly attacks the person’s healthy tissue.

MS can cause blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, and blindness and more. These problems may be permanent or may come and go.


  • MS is not directly inherited although genetics plays an important role in who gets the disease
  • Most people are diagnosed between the age of 20 and 50


  • It causes paralysis – the majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds of people who have MS remain able to walk.
  • It is a fatal disease – the vast majority of people with it live a normal life span

Down syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. It occurs in approximately one in every 800 live births. Individuals with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. It is the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder. It is not known why this occurs. However, it is known that the error occurs at conception and is not related to anything the mother did during pregnancy.


  • It has been known for some time that the incidence of Down syndrome increases with advancing maternal age. However, 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age
  • Children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of infection, respiratory, vision and hearing problems as well as thyroid and other medical conditions
  • Many children with Down syndrome have health complications beyond the usual childhood illnesses. Approximately 40% of the children have congenital heart defects


  • Individuals with Down Syndrome are different to others – the most important fact to know about individuals with Down syndrome is that they are more like others than they are different
  • Down syndrome is related to race, nationality, religion or socioeconomic status – none of these are a cause of down syndrome

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is a severe developmental disorder that begins at birth or within the first two-and-a-half years of life. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviours which are markedly different from those of typical children.

While all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in very different ways. They are regarded as having difficulty with social communication, social interaction and social imagination.


  • Boys outnumber girls four to one
  • Age at intervention has a direct impact on outcome -typically, the earlier a child is treated, the better the prognosis will be
  • In recent years there has been a marked increase in the percentage of children who can attend school in a typical classroom and live semi-independently in community settings


  • When a person with autism does not respond to a question/direction to which he has shown a previous correct response, he is being stubborn/non-compliant/obnoxious
  • Individuals with autism cannot show affection and do not respond to physical affection

Cerebral palsy

The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time. It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements.

Possible causes also include: infection in the early part of pregnancy; infection or accident in the early years of a child’s life and abnormal brain development. There may also be a genetic link, but this is quite rare.


  • The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until months or years later. The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age
  • The most common types are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a ‘scissored’ gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy


  • It causes profound disabilities – While one child with severe cerebral palsy might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another with mild cerebral palsy might be only slightly awkward and require no special assistance
  • It can be cured – unfortunately at present it cant be, but treatment will often improve a child’s capabilities. Many children go on to enjoy near-normal adult lives if their disabilities are properly managed


Arthritis simply means a painful condition of the joints. There are different types of the disease – many inflammatory and others more degenerative in nature. For most people, arthritis causes discomfort, pain and stiffness in one or more joint and causes fatigue.

A joint is where one bone moves on another. The two bones are held together by ligaments which are like elastic bands; they keep the bones in place while muscles lengthen and shorten to make the joint move. What goes wrong with joints varies from one kind of arthritis to another.


  • There are over 200 different kinds of Arthritis
  • The right kind of exercise will not make your arthritis any worse. In fact, exercising helps you lose weight, which means less strain on your joints
  • Arthritis is the UK’s biggest single cause of physical disability, affecting around nine million people


  • There is a cure for arthritis – unfortunately there isn’t however, there are many ways of treating the symptoms of arthritis. There is also much you can do to protect your joints and keep mobile with drugs, therapies and self-management techniques
  • Arthritis is just a disease of older people – this is not true as it can affect people of all ages, including children