Empathy in play

Schoolchildren in Broken Hill have this week been treated to a series of innovative and inclusive sports and cultural programs and presentations, including the chance to play blind cricket.

Delivered by Scott Jones and Maree Jenner of Social Futures, the visit aims to teach students the importance of inclusivity and acceptance for people with disabilities.

Mr Jones, a former NSW Blind Cricket Captain, and Community Development Coordinator for Social Futures, showed students the modified sport, teaching them the variations of batting, bowling, and fielding – all with experiential glasses to mimic vision impairment. He told the Barrier Truth, “It’s all about others seeing things through their eyes.”

“Blind cricket has a lot of similarities [to traditional cricket], but just some of the equipment and some of the rules have changed just so everyone can be included in the game of cricket. And that’s why sport is so good. Sport is a good vehicle for inclusion because as you can see by the Paralympics or just the disability sports around, you can modify the rules and the equipment to include everyone,” he said.

“By throwing these glasses on and just not having their full senses, it gives them an idea of, hey, not everyone is the same, and that people with disabilities, sometimes they just need a little bit of help, and we need to be a bit kinder and more patient.”

Using a classroom setting, Ms Jenner spoke to pupils, explaining her own story while looking to break down perceptions and social barriers, and encouraging awareness and inclusion for people with disabilities.

“I have dwarfism, so I’m the height of an eight-year-old child [but] I’m an adult, and this has impacted [me], especially at school, because it’s people’s attitudes in relation to the acceptance of difference,” the Social Futures Community Engagement Local Area Coordinator told us.

“I challenge their thinking a little bit. It’s just to give them an idea of how someone’s thinking can impact somebody and hold them back. I make them aware that we have these inherent strengths that come about because we need to do things differently. I had to learn very early to advocate for myself and stand up, and that’s a strength that I’ve got because of my difference.”

Both Mr Jones and Ms Jenner say this generation is the future, and that by imparting to them the knowledge to be kind to those with disabilities now, the entire community will be better for it.

“These are the adults of tomorrow, and we’re talking to children that are at that stage of increasing their awareness of empathy, empathy advances, so I also encourage them to be an ally for people with disabilities or differences, to be an ally for one another,” Ms Jenner said.

“These young people, encouraging them and getting them to also be advocates and allies when they grow up, their environment becomes more inclusive. You don’t have to be everyone’s friend, but to have one another’s back is so important. Encourage them to be upstanders as opposed to bystanders. The most important thing is acceptance. But what we need more of is representation of difference.”

“We’re hoping that in the future, disability is not something that you need to talk about. I just hope they have the understanding that disability is not something that’s hidden away,” Ms Jenner adds.

“Ninety percent of people’s disabilities are invisible, so my message to the kids is you don’t want to be that kid that is bullying a person with a disability because you don’t know if that person’s got a disability, you don’t know how hard their day has been just to get through it.

“Everyone’s just who they are, and everyone’s got their own identity, and they’re not labelled ‘disabled’ or anything like that. This is the generation I feel that we need to be talking to, and hopefully, that mindset will grow into our community as they get older.”


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