Emphasizing Function


“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee

As important as it is for health and fitness professionals to know what limitations an individual may have in terms of creating appropriate activities, especially for safety and medical considerations, it’s also important to consider what that individual CAN do, and what they can do in context with their environment. The social model of disability has taught us that systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (whether purposely or not) are the main contributing factors in disabling people, not the disability itself.

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health, or ICF, is a comprehensive framework used by the World Health Organization (WHO) for describing and measuring health and disability at both the individual and population levels. This framework is used to assess the relationship among an individual’s function, activities, and participation while also considering these in the context of the environmental and personal factors that influence an individual’s overall health. 

The ICF puts the idea of ‘health’ and ‘disability’ in a new light and recognizes that any person can experience peaks and valleys in health, and therefore any person is prone to experiencing some kind of disability. It shifts the focus from what caused a disability to the impact that it has on the person. In addition, ICF considers the social aspects of disability and does not see disability as a medical condition. By including these contextual factors, the ICF helps us to assess the impact of the environment on the person’s functioning, and therefore possibly assess potential “limitations” a bit differently.

The health domain and health-related domain contained in the ICF are described fromt he perspective of the body, the individual, and society in two basic categories: (1) Body Functions and Structures (system level); and (2) Activities and Participation (person level and person-environment interaction). The ICF can be used as a tool in exercise physiology to conduct a needs assessment or as an outcome evaluation. It allows the fitness professional to identify the barriers and facilitators that affect the health of the client with the disability and then find or create modifications for the specific individual in order to facilitate participation in an activity. The ICF emphasizes function, NOT the health condition, and categorizes the situation, NOT the person. Here is an example.

Do you see the ICF as having application in your field?

Reference: http://www.who.int/classifications/icf/en