Services that provide for people with disabilities have a clear responsibility to work in ways that genuinely empower, enable and support participants to experience all the rights that belong to all citizens. Although we have the responsibility to support people with disabilities to take control over their own lives, we also have the responsibility to ensure that people are not unreasonably exposed to risks of physical injury or other harm. On the one hand we assist people to develop independence and autonomy, and on the other we must ensure that a person's disability does not leave them unreasonably vulnerable to abuse or danger.

There are two key areas in which a person with a disability may be at risk of harm:

  • The first relates to physical injury; and
  • The second relates to limiting maximum personal development, self-determination and decision makin.

For people with disabilities, harm in these areas may be difficult to assess, therefore it is important that we are well aware of how harm can occur. Leaders carry a higher burden of responsibility compared with working with people without disabilities.

The Disability Act 2006and the Disability Regulations 2007 (the Act) commenced on 1 July 2007. The Act replaced the Intellectually Disabled Persons' Services Act 1986 and Disability Services Act 1991. The following website will give information regarding the Act:

Additionally the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) in Australia and the Human Rights Act of Victoria are also important to understand. The following website will give you further information on both of these acts:

Both the principles of the Disability Act 2006 and the Disability Regulations 2007, require an approach which not only takes into account an organisation's responsibility to ensure physical well-being, but also to assist a person with a disability to maximise their personal development, self-determination, independence and quality of life. This has implications for what is considered reasonable practice in providing services and what could be considered as damage. When we consider the rights of people with disabilities to grow and develop we also need to consider the range of risks that they can be exposed to in achieving this.

This has implications for:

  • Leaders in encouraging participants to confront dangers and risks and to support them to do so safely; and
  • Imposing restrictions because of what we perceive will cause injury that restricts the individual’s independence and freedom.

As leaders we will come to realise that there is a fine line between being helpful and constructive and being overprotective and custodial. Though we encourage independence, challenge and some risk taking, we are aware that we have a legal responsibility to protect the participants entrusted to us from harm -physical, emotion, and psychological.

It is extremely important that we understand the legal responsibilities that we have to the participants entrusted to us and to ensure that these are observed. Initially, this may sound daunting and difficult to comprehend, but if we look at it in simple terms we can understand the basics and come to understand how we should respond, what precautions we should take and what pitfalls to avoid.

There are number of principles we need to be aware of in understanding the legal responsibilities we have to the participants entrusted to us in the sport or active recreation program situation.

These include:

  • Negligence;
  • Duty of care;
  • Standard of care;
  • Breach of duty of care; and
  • Harm and loss.

In a sport and active recreation environment, the relationship that the leader has with a participant is one of 'in locoparentis'. This is a legal term meaning 'inplace of parent or parents/caregivers’. The leader is expected to take on all the responsibilities of the parents/ caregivers and possibly even more. This is a general responsibility but a leader does not have all the responsibilities of a parent or guardian. It is a responsibility of care but not one that includes the power to make the same decisions that parents/caregivers can make.