Swimming program gives adults with disabilities 'independence and confidence'

A new non-profit group created by McMaster University students runs free, one-on-one tailored swim lessons for adults with disabilities.

Tidal Waves Hamilton is run by students from McMaster University

Tidal Waves Hamilton provides free, one-on-one swimming lessons for adults with disabilities. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Inside this swimming lesson, two things are constant — the sound of water lapping against the side of the pool, and boundless encouragement from the instructors.

"Good job!" says one. "You've improved so much," echoes another.

This is what it's like to dive in during lessons hosted by Tidal Waves Hamilton, a group created by McMaster University students, that runs free, one-on-one swim lessons for adults with disabilities.

The program launched back in January, and now boasts 10 participants, says Kohilan Selvakumaran, the non-profit's president and founder. The instructors teach people with both physical and developmental disabilities.

"There is a disconnect between the disability population and the able-bodied population, so having an environment where student swim instructors can actually teach individuals with disabilities can help foster inclusivity," he said.

Tidal waves in the water

4 years ago
Duration 0:56
Tidal Waves Hamilton is a new organization that provides free swimming lessons for adults with disabilities.

Catherine Shoot was one of the students at this week's lesson at the Kiwanis Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton. In just a few weeks she has come leaps and bounds, learning both the front crawl and backstroke.

"I just love swimming and being in the water," she said.

Cassandra Hertel took part as well. "I like to come here to learn new swim skills," she said.

Services for adults with disabilities like this one, are sorely needed in Hamilton, the Tidal Waves team says. While programming for children exists, once they hit 18, much of it dries up.

Kohilan Selvakumaran, left, is the founder and president of Tidal Waves Hamilton. He's joined by head instructor Peter Soliman, centre, and vice president Dhruv Gupte, right. (Adam Carter/CBC)

"Adults with disabilities are really neglected here," said Dhruv Gupte, who volunteers with the group. "As soon as they hit 18 we assume they're self-sufficient, but that's not always the case."

The Boys & Girls Club is currently providing the pool and a lifeguard free of charge to the group. Lessons are currently at capacity, but Tidal Waves hopes to expand.

Participants in the program come from a variety of ages and backgrounds — one national Special Olympics swimmer even trains with the group.

Tidal Waves is run by a group of McMaster University students. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Nancy Santini is a residential support worker with the city, who says she could not be happier to see the program providing a much-needed service. In many cases, it can be difficult for adults who live in a group home setting to get out into the community, she said.

"This is amazing," Santini said. "It gives them the courage, independence and confidence to try new things."



Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.


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