To be inclusive think FRIENDS


When you are an open water swimmer with a disability a common message and email you find yourself sending is this:

“Dear ……

I am an open water swimmer and am interested in ….(event)…however I have a disability that means I am a wheelchair user. I can walk short distances using crutches so I can get in the water and pass my crutches back, but I will need someone there with them for when I finish. Can you give me any information on what the entry to the water is; is it a beach entrance or a ramp or steps or a bank? is there a handrail? Will there be people in or by the water helping swimmers out at the end? Also, can you give me any information on disabled parking and what the walk is like from the car parking to the swim entry point? Is it grass or gravel or tarmac and can you tell me roughly how far it is? Is there somewhere safe to leave my wheelchair and crutches whilst I am swimming?

I am a confident and competent open water swimmer with many years of experience and would like to take part in your event, however I do need more information before registering.

I look forward to hearing from you

Sophie Etheridge”

I send this email to almost every event organiser before I enter an event, at first, I spent my life re-writing and re-wording the email depending on the event but I realised I was sending it so regularly that I just have it saved as a template on my laptop so I can just adapt it and copy and paste it!

Ive said it a hundred times but will say it again; everyone with a disability is different so no two disabilities or people are the same and, as a result, everyone has their own individual needs.
Before I became disabled myself, I ignorantly thought that if someone said a venue was disabled accessible it meant it was accessible to everyone. It doesn’t, it means it is accessible for the people they have created it for, and this is one of the biggest issues when finding somewhere ‘accessible’. What is accessible and easy to me, would be impossible for someone else. This can obviously make things difficult when trying to figure out if an open water swimming venue will be accessible or not because, like mentioned, it may be accessible to me as I can walk short distances. However, if I were a paraplegic and couldn’t stand it would be a different story. Despite that, I still want to try to find ways to ensure venues are as inclusive as possible and this has been my long-term aim since I began campaigning for more accessible events and venues for open water swimmers with disabilities. 


One of the things I have been working on for over a year is an Accessible Swim Spot Map, each entry marked and explained in detail under certain categories, but I don’t have the ability to make a long-term system or app. I am pleased to say that I have recently discovered the Wild swimming app ( and that the creator, Rob and I have connected and discussed how we can add accessibility information into the app and try to ensure that there is information on accessibility at each swim location on the map. It is very early days, but I hope over the next few months we will get things together, launch and try them and then improve them if they need it.

This is a huge step forwards and I can’t begin to explain how happy I am to have found the app and that Rob is interested in adding accessibility information as no other app for swimming spots has this feature.




I want all open water swimming clubs/groups to be inclusive, or at least open to the idea of having a swimmer with a disability join them. After the issues that I faced a few weeks ago when I went to the beach it gave me the nudge I needed to start work on a poster that I hope will be shared far and wide. The idea of the poster is to make people think about how they can include those with disabilities rather than exclude them. 

I needed to come up with something that was very clear and easy to understand, something that was memorable and something that every single open water swimmer could consider and think about. 

This is the poster that I have come up with:


The design has been discussed between myself and many other people, including people with and without a disability who may or may not swim, it has also gone to disability advocates and even Open Water Olympian Keri-anne Payne from Straight Line Swimming ( 

Together we have come up with 7 things to think about when organising an inclusive swim. All people need to remember is the word FRIENDS. I hope that the poster is self explanatory but more detail on each of the things to consider can be found below:

Find relevant medical information and any needs that the individual swimmer may have, do they have any conditions like epilepsy or heart issues that you should be aware of before getting in the water? Don’t be afraid to ask their conditions, its for your safety as well as theirs.

Research the swim spot to ensure its accessible and to find any potential issues. If you are unsure about something causing a problem just ask the individual if it would be an issue. The most common problems are access into the water so consider taking a photo of the entry spot when publicising your swim.

Invite the swimmers – if you don’t invite swimmers then they won’t come!

Entry, Exit, Equipment. What is the entry like? is it a beach entry? river bank or steps? Again, consider a photo of the entry point as this will help people know if it is accessible or not. Consider if you would be able to get in and out if you used crutches, other mobility equipment or if you had a visual impairment etc

Needs, what needs does the swimmer have? Do they need help getting in and out? Do they need the terrain to be hard ground due to them being an amputee? or maybe they need a guide in the water due to a visual impairment?

Drinks and cakes; this is for after a swim because what does every open water swimmer want after going for a swim? A hot drink and yummy cakes of course! (FYI if you swim with me I like hot chocolate and carrot cake)

Swim, this is self-explanatory – go for your swim, enjoy it, make new friends and have fun!

So, calling all open water swimmers, coaches, dippers, event organisers, friends and everyone in-between please share this poster and help spread the very simple things you should consider so you can be more inclusive when planning swims!

If you need the poster in a different colour, different format or have any questions about the poster please get in contact with me through my website. I want to try and make this poster accessible for everyone.

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