Swim England

A nation swimming

Nicola Hughes: ‘Ripple Effect will prove disabled people can volunteer in aquatics’

Swim England’s Ripple Effect Project Officer Nicola Hughes believes that her ‘unique experience’ will allow her to help disabled people get involved in volunteering roles within aquatics.

The Ripple Effect project was launched in March and will aim to break down barriers for individuals who want to become volunteers and encourage them to get involved in our sports.

The funding set up a new partnership with Spirit of 2012, the legacy funder established following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The project will work with NDSO’s (national disability sporting organisations) to secure their direct input in to this work, ensuring the accessibility is developed by those who face barriers.

Nicola has been swimming her entire life and is an above knee amputee of six years so has the experience of swimming as both a non-disabled and a disabled swimmer.

She is also a long term volunteer with LimbPower and thinks that being able to see things from both sides provides her with the perfect opportunity to make a difference in this position.

She said: “What drew me to the role was that I had the unique experience of being both a non-disabled and a disabled

“Becoming a disabled person has been a steep learning curve and it hasn’t always been a positive experience. I have been in a position where I have been humiliated through no fault of my own about my disability and it’s not something I want to repeat again.

“I want to turn my negative experience into helping other disabled people try something that they might enjoy. I feel that with my unique experience I will be able to see things from both sides and use that knowledge to help others into volunteering roles.”

‘Being disabled doesn’t mean you have to miss out’

Following her amputation, Nicola spoke of the troubles she had and how she has been encouraging other amputees to get into sport.

“After my amputation I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope or how I was going to lead a ‘normal’ life again. I had weekly physio sessions at the Limb Centre and was surprised how I was able to progress with a prosthetic leg.

“I think it was my determination that kept me going and talking to other amputees and encouraging them led to me being asked if I wanted to volunteer for LimbPower and I was very touched that they wanted me to be part of the team.”

On why disabled people should get into volunteering, Nicola said there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to get involved.

“Why shouldn’t they be able to volunteer? I didn’t get into volunteering just because I was disabled. I got into volunteering because I wanted to give something back and didn’t want anyone else to feel like I did when I lost a limb.

“Disabled people may have to do things slightly differently but it doesn’t mean that they should be ruled out of something just because they have a disability. Before my amputation I volunteered to help adults who were illiterate read to learn to read and it’s the satisfaction of giving something back that makes me want to volunteer.

“So whether you’re disabled or not, it’s something you want to do then you should go for it, you never know what you might achieve and learn about yourself along the way.

“Just because I have a physical disability doesn’t mean that I can’t do the same things as an able bodied person. I just have to do the same thing but differently!

“My leg is missing but I still have use of the other parts of me. I am still able to communicate and I want to understand what barriers other disabled people face when they want to get into a volunteering role.

“I believe this project will show other disabled people that they can have a part in aquatic sports.  Adaptations can and should be made to allow different impairments whether they are visual, physical or sensory be included in volunteer roles.”

‘The Ripple Effect is here to break those barriers down’

Nicola opened up on some of the challenges that disabled people face when applying for volunteering roles and how the project aims to get around these barriers.

“There are physical, sensory and visual and each come with their own challenges. This project aims to try and break them down by working with the NDSO’s and volunteers to work out how these can be challenged to allow inclusion.

“There will be a number of roles that will be worked on with close communication between myself and the Ripple Effect team to hopefully overcome challenges and help individuals on their aquatic volunteering journey.

“We are going to work with small groups of volunteers from each NDSO with varying levels of disabilities to see how we can break these barriers down. Without their input and experiences it is very difficult to learn what challenges are faced.

“I can only comment on my own disability, so it would be no good me commenting on what visually impaired or hearing impaired person faces on a daily basis.

“By working with people and getting regular feedback on what barriers stop them from volunteering we are not going to be able to make adaptations or changes to the system.

Nicola had this message to share for any disabled people thinking of getting involved in volunteering.

“If you have a love of aquatics and want to be part of the aquatic world, then please don’t feel that you can’t have a go just because you have a disability. I don’t let my disability stop me doing what I want to do. I love the interaction when I volunteer and at times adaptations need to be made but barriers are not a reason to give up before you start.

“The Ripple Effect is here to work with you to break down the barriers stopping you from embarking on your volunteer journey in the aquatic world. Take the plunge and it might just be all you want it to be.”