Swimmers with Disabilities

Swimming Victoria, in conjunction with a range of partners, provide a variety of opportunities to engage people with disability into the sport of swimming.

With thanks to Paralympic medalist, Col Pearse

Inclusion Overview

  • Inclusion
  • Swimming Victoria can provide swimming opportunities for ALL swimmers, including those with disability.

    We use a Multiple Classification - or Multi Class for short - competition format that groups impairments together to make racing fair.  

    Swimming Victoria adopts the new terminology and clear distinction between athletes with disability (AwD) and the racing system of Multi Classification (MC). This is based in inclusive language, particularly given that many athletes with disability compete in various forms of racing in the sport of swimming. 

    To help our clubs become more inclusive, Swimming Victoria have teamed up with Sport4All. 

    Sport4All is a collaboration between the Australian Government, Sport Australia and Get Skilled Access. Their purpose is to provide people with disability the opportunity to participate in sport when, where and how they choose. 

    Start your clubs Inclusion journey by filling out the Inclusion Scoreboard Survey here.

    With thanks to Sadat-Jon Hussain, Ryan McGrane, Phoebe Mitchell, Bradley Doolan, Madeline Fox and Geelong Swimming Club

Learn To Swim

  • Learn To Swim Overview
  • Swimming offers a wide range of benefits to people who live with disability. This includes:

    1. Alleviation of pressure on joints and muscles 
    2. Improving muscle strength 
    3. Improving heart health
    4. Improving mental health
    5. Positive impacts on transfer skills 
    6. Improving social wellbeing and having fun
    7. Supporting independence

    For many people and children, their association with the water and swimming starts with learning to swim. Swimming is great for people of all ages, and it is never too late to learn. 

    There are many learn to swim and swimming lesson programs across Victoria who accommodate for swimmers with varied levels of ability.

  • Questions to ask a Learn to Swim program
  • To find a suitable learn to swim program, simply search for a Learn To Swim program that near or convenient for you. 

    Some tips and questions you may like to ask your local learn to swim provider:

    • Is there a specific person within your organisation who can help me with swimming lessons for a child with disability?
    • Do you offer one on one sessions?
    • Do you offer a program that caters specifically for my child's ability?
    • What type of pool access do you have?
    • Can my child's access requirements be met?
    • What time of day do you offer lessons?
    • Do you provide the opportunity for off-peak lesson times as these may be preferential for my child?
    • Do you offer trials or flexible lessons?
    • Do you offer makeup lessons?

    Keen to take the next step after Learn to Swim? FUN SWIM is an initiative from Swimming Victoria that provides Learn to Swim swimmers with a fun and engaging program to explore racing and develop and improve ‘race ready’ skills. Find a FUN SWIM provider.

Swimming Victoria's - The Abilities Program

  • The Abilities Program
  • Abilities program


    The Abilities Program provides more opportunities for people with disability to connect with the Victorian swimming community and to progress through our competitions and participation pathways. Whilst this is not a learn to swim experience, those with basic swimming ability are encouraged to come along and experience the joy of swimming in a relaxed club event with the support of dedicated coaches, chat to members of the club and learn more about the pathways available.

    Through the Abilities Program, Swimming Victoria hopes to encourage more coaches, officials and interested classifiers to come along and support people with disability to engage in the club environment and to encourage the provision of more dedicated events across the State.

    The Abilities Program is free to attend.

    Upcoming Events: TBC

    The benefits of swimming are wide and multifaceted and can be amplified for people with a disability who may face additional stresses and life challenges. Swimming Australia's Community Impact Study 2020 highlights that:

    • Swimming is intertwined as part of our national fabric
    • Water safety is a life-saving skill learned only through swimming
    • Swimming teaches resilience and determination, work ethic, time management and commitment
    • Swimming offers pathways from the local pool to the Olympics and Paralympics for both athletes and officials
    • Swimming is for all abilities, ages and backgrounds
    • Swimmers feel twice as healthy as the general population, 11% less stressed and have 10% more contact with their social network
    • Swimming uses every available muscle to energise, invigorate and relax the mind, body and soul.

    This is why Swimming Victoria is launching The Abilities Program -  to ensure more people with disability can receive the therapeutic and physical benefits of being a member of the swimming community and more opportunities to swim with cohesive pathways to all levels of the sport.

    View the Club and Participants Resource here

Join a Club

  • Finding and Joining a Club
  • To find a club near you, you can do a general search online or contact Swimming Victoria directly

    Swimming Victoria Office: (03) 9230 9400

    General Enquiries  - sv.admin@vic.swimming.org.au

  • Questions to ask a club 
  • Provided below are some tips and questions you may like to ask your local club or club of choice:

    • Do you offer a swimming squad that will cater specifically for my child's ability?
    • Is there a specific person with experience who would be supporting my child/or me?
    • What type of pool access do you have?
    • Can my child's access requirements be met?
    • Do you have a trial period?


  • Classification Overview 
  • Classification is used to place athletes of similar ability or function into groups for competition.

    Classification considers an athlete’s medical condition and their physical, sensory and cognitive attributes to group them into classes. In Australia classification is used to ensure fair and meaningful competition at all levels.

    With thanks to Col Pearse, Sadat-Jon Hussain, Ryan McGrane, Phoebe Mitchell, Bradley Doolan, Madeline Fox and Geelong Swimming Club
  • Classification Classes 
  • There are 19 classes in the swimming classification system which cater for a range of disabilities. Each class has minimum eligibility requirements and swimmers must undergo specific Athlete Evaluation or Eligibility process to obtain a classification.

    Swimmers receive a class for each stroke discipline, and a prefix indicates which stroke the class applies to.

    • The prefix S denotes the class for Freestyle, Backstroke & Butterfly
    • The prefix SB denotes the class for breaststroke
    • The prefix SM denotes the class for Individual Medley

    There is a range of exception codes to the rules that can be applied to a swimmer's classification to ensure they are not disqualified during competition. 

    More information about the classification classes including the classification guide and exception codes can be found on the Swimming Australia website.

  • Physical Impairment 
  • Swimmers with Physical/Functional Impairment (Classes 1-10)

    Swimmers are assessed through physical testing and water observations. Muscle strength, movement co-ordination, joint range of movement and limb/trunk length contribute to the allocation of classes. Classes range from swimmers with most significant physical impairment (Class 1) to those with minimal impairment (Class 10).

  • Visual Impairment 
  • Swimmers with Vision Impairment (Classes 11-13) 

    Ranges from Class 11 for swimmers who are blind to Class 13 for swimmers who are legally blind (i.e. acuity less than or equal to 6/60 or visual filed less than 20 degrees).

  • Intellectual Impairment 
  • Swimmers with Intellectual Impairment (Classes 14,18,19)

    Intellectual Impairment Virtus II-1 class S14

    Swimmers with an IQ score of 75 or less; with significant limitations in adaptive behavior expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills; acquired prior to 18 years of age.

    Intellectual impairment with a significant other impairment Virtus II-2 S18
    Swimmers with a formal diagnosis of Down syndrome including type (Trisomy 21, etc.). For safety, athletes must not have symptomatic Atlantoaxial Instability (AAI)

    Swimmers with intellectual disability who have satisfied the II-1 eligibility criteria, and meet the FAST test requirements

    Note: Mosaic Down syndrome is not an eligible criteria for II-2

    (High Functioning) Autism Virtus II–3 class S19

    Swimmers with a Full-Scale score IQ of above 75, OR no diagnosis of intellectual disability, and; a formal diagnosis of Autism, ASD or Asperger’s syndrome

    Note: Swimmers with Autism who meet the criteria for II1 intellectual disability will be classified in that class.

  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing 
  • Swimmers with Hearing Loss (Class 15)
    Swimmers who have a recognized hearing loss according to the following ICSD standards; deaf, defined as a hearing loss of at least 55dB in the better ear 3FAHL.

  • Transplant Recipient 
  • Swimmers who have received a transplant (Class 16)

    Any person having undergone invasive treatment of a non-cosmetic nature requiring organs and/or tissues (excluding blood) donated by another person.

  • Transitioning Classification 
  • Transitioning Classification (Class 17)

    Any person having previously been classified in the S1-16 pathway who is has or has had one or more of the above-mentioned impairments that currently not eligible or has the potential to be eligible in the future in the S1-16 classification range as determined by Swimming Australia.

    For more information on the classes and eligibility requirements visit the National Classification Explanatory Guide and Multi Class Engagement Portal on the Swimming Australia website here

    For Intellectual impairment eligibility you can also visit the eligibility section of the Sports Inclusion Australia website.

  • When is classification required? 
  • Classification is required to compete in multi class competition at state, national and international level.

    A Provisional classification is required to compete at school, club, local and regional levels of competition. The process to obtain this entry level classification sees a participant working with their home medical contact and provide supporting evidence to their application. This is then forwarded to an accredited classifier to assess and determine an outcome of eligibility.

    A National classification is required to compete at state and national level competitions. This involves a face-to-face evaluation conducted by accredited classifiers

    International classification is required to compete internationally. This process also involves a face-to-face evaluation conducted by accredited classifiers

    More information about the classification process including the national classification Master List can be found on the Swimming Australia website.

  • How do I get classified? 
  • For swimmers with a physical/ functional disability Swimming Victoria runs Classification Days annually . If you are a swimmer with a physical/functional disability, contact us at classification@vic.swimming.org.au to register your details for our next Classification day. 

    For swimmers with a visual impairment visit the classification section of the Paralympics Australia website.

    For swimmers with an intellectual impairment visit the eligibility section of the Sports Inclusion Australia website.

    For swimmers who are deaf visit the classification section of the Deaf Sports website.

    For swimmers with a transplant visit the multi-class sports section of the Transplant Australia website.

    For swimmers competing at school sport level provisional classification is required and more information can be found on the school sport Victoria website.


  • Competition Overview
  • With thanks to Col Pearse, Sadat-Jon Hussain, Ryan McGrane, Phoebe Mitchell, Bradley Doolan, Madeline Fox and Geelong Swimming Club 
  • What is Multi-Class competition? 
  • In terms of competitive swimming, people with disabilities are able to race in both able bodied racing, open water racing but also a format of swimming especially designed for people with disabilities. This format is called Multiple Classification competition or Multi Class for short, a format of racing that grades multiple disability classifications fairly against each other under rules. 

    Multi Class events are normal swimming events with some minor modifications to the rules and regulations.

  • Who can compete in Multi-Class events? 
  • To compete in Multi-Class competition swimmers must have an eligible classification. It’s important to be aware there is minimum criteria and not all impairments are eligible​.

  • How are the results and places determined? 
  • Swimmers race against the world record time in that event for their classification. Events results are determined using the Multi-Class Point Score  (MCPS) system. The winner of the race is not always who touches the wall first, but the swimmer who posts the highest point score.

    Note: With a non-Paralympic event, or new classification, a manual adjust is made to the time result. This is due to the records not being as competitive as the regularly contested events, or no existing world record for that classifications event. The aim of this is to ensures a fair competition for all.

  • The Multi-Class point score (MCPS) 
  • The Multi-class point score is based on the World Record (WR) times for each classification. You can calculate most of the event point scores using the quick Online MCPS Calculators on the Swimming Australia website.

    Swimming Australia – MCPS Calculators

  • Up coming Multi-Class competitions 
  • Click on the competition calendar to see multi class competition opportunities

    Multi Class competition calendar 

  • Competition Pathways 
  • There are several competition pathways for all athletes within each of the class types.

    Para Swimming - physical, visual & intellectual impairment – Swimming Victoria has an emerging abilities squad.

    Special Olympics - intellectual impairment

    Deaflympics – deaf and hard of hearing

    Transplant Games - Transplant Recipient

    Virtus - intellectual impairment & Autism

    More information about pathway opportunities can be found on Swimming Australia website


Support Toolbox

  • Overview
  • Swimming Victoria is committed to providing an environment where all are welcomed and treated equally, swimmers, coaches, officials, club volunteers or spectators.

    We offer several programs and pathways to ensure people of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and gender have the opportunity to engage in swimming from the club level through to the elite level.

    We have a range of resources available to assist clubs in ensuring they are providing their members and the wider community positive experiences and opportunities to engage in swimming. 

  • Swimmers, Parents and Carers 
  • Swimmers

    It can be daunting when you join a club for the first time or move to a new club. It’s important to just be yourself and join activities as best as you can. It’s also important to remember your disability doesn’t stop you from making friends.  

    If you have a teammate with a disability at or joining your club, do your best to make them feel welcome and get to know them. The same way you would any other teammate. 

    Parents and Carers 

    Remember that your club may not be aware of the specific needs of your child. At the end of the day, you are your child’s greatest advocate. So don’t hesitate to provide them with relevant information and support the club in their efforts to be inclusive.

    Encourage and support your child to speak up if they need assistance or feel they have been treated differently and talk to them about any issues they are experiencing.

    You can find some tips on questions ask the club in questions to ask a club section of this site.  

    With thanks to Helen Campbell, Sadat-Jon Hussain, Ryan McGrane, Phoebe Mitchell, Bradley Doolan, Madeline Fox and Geelong Swimming Club
  • Coaches and Clubs 
  • Coaches 

    Put the swimmer before the disability e.g. Jeremy is a swimmer with cerebral palsy. Make sure you get know to your swimmers, it is not necessary to be an expert on specific disabilities but you do need to know your swimmer.

    Understand the individual, communicate clearly, understand how to modify and adapt. If you are not sure or something isn’t working, speak to the individual, they’re an expert in the disability or impairment. If that’s not suitable make sure you work closely with parents or carers to get the best results.

    Welcoming a new swimmer to the group can be difficult, especially when friendship groups within a squad or club have already been formed. One tip could be to get creative with how the squad interacts with some group activities as soon as possible. This will help the new swimmer become more comfortable and transition successfully into the group. 

    Clubs and Administrators

    Show the new club members around the facilities and introduce them to important people of the club, such as the coaches and committee members, to put the new members at ease. Giving new members the choice to choose how they wish to participate can be empowering.

    With thanks to Col Pearse, Glen Benson, Sadat-Jon Hussain, Ryan McGrane, Phoebe Mitchell, Bradley Doolan, Madeline Fox and Geelong Swimming Club
  • Officials & Volunteers 
  • As an official or volunteer, it is just as important for you to play your part in creating an inclusive environment, as much as any other member of the swimming community. You can do this by calling out discrimination when you believe you have seen it.

    Be proactive, build awareness and educate others.

Resources and Partners

  • Additional Resources 
  • NDIS – Providers and Access to NDIS funding. 

    • The NDIS recognises these holistic benefits and can provide funding for either your sporting activities themselves or part of your sporting equipment. Just keep in mind, funding can only be provided for supports that are considered to be reasonable and necessary and relative to the goals in your NDIS plan.
    • The NDIS can also fund specialised sporting equipment that's relative to your disability. This comes under one of two categories:
      • Consumables: For sporting equipment you can buy “off the shelf” but have to pay more because of the adaptations needed to meet your needs. You cover the cost of the basic product and the NDIS funds the difference. While the NDIS won’t cover the full cost, it can cover what you have to pay over and beyond the base price. For example, if you need a specialised saddle for horse riding, you cover the cost of a standard saddle and the NDIS covers the cost of any extra modifications.
      • Assistive Technology: For complex equipment from a specialist disability supplier. An OT assessment is needed for this type of equipment confirming it's suitable for your needs and is reasonable and necessary.
  • Swimming Victoria Partners
  • Paralympics Australia   ​

    www.paralympic.org.au    (03) 8633 9000     ​

    Paralympics Australia is the peak national body responsible for Australia's elite athletes with a disability. They are responsible for Paralympic classification (Classes 1-14), Talent Identification and Paralympic Education Programs. For Vision Impairment Classification, please contact them directly.

    Deaf Sports Australia   

    www.deafsports.org.au   (03) 9473 1191

    Deaf Sports Australia (DSA) is the peak body for deaf sport in Australia. DSA manage deaf specific competitions, promote the participation of people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing in sport and manage eligibility for hearing loss classification (Class 15).

    Sport Inclusion Australia    ​

    www.sportinclusionaustralia.org.au    (03) 5762 7494​

    Sport Inclusion Australia, formerly AUSRAPID, is a national sporting organisation established in 1986 to assist the inclusion of people with an intellectual disability into the mainstream community using sport as the medium. Sport Inclusion Australia has worked within the Australian sporting sector with outstanding success and is proud of the increasing numbers of sporting organisations and clubs taking responsibility for inclusion with the focus on ability and based on social inclusion principles.

    Special Olympics Victoria  

    www.specialolympics.com.au/vic (03) 9877 2769

    Special Olympics provide participation and competitive sporting opportunities for people with an intellectual disability across Australia. The flow chart below will help you determine the best path, as a swimmer with an intellectual disability. The database below, is an updated list of Clubs in Special Olympic regions that can cater for swimmers with an intellectual disability.

    Disability Sport & Recreation   

    dsr.org.au   (03) 9473 0133    SportRec Access Line: 1800 234 648

    Disability Sport and Recreation is the health-promoting peak organisation for the disability sport and recreation sector in Victoria. Our mission is to provide and promote positive health outcomes for Victorians with disability through participation in sport and recreation.

    Blind Sports Victoria   

    blindsports.org.au/  (03) 9822 8876

    Blind Sports Victoria exist to educate, support, advocate and further assist the development of sport and active recreation opportunities to enhance the lives of all Victorian’s who are blind or vision impaired people. Facilities - Click here for Blind Swimming Guidelines. It's a fantastic tool for any staff across aquatic centres to help them assist clients who are blind or vision impaired.

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