One of my favorite things to do during the summertime when I was in grade school was going to the pool at my community’s recreation center. It was convenient because I lived in town and it was a place where I could socialize with friends.
Looking back almost 20 years later, I realize the importance of the recreation center for me and rest of the community. I grew up in a family where I was encouraged and pushed to be active, regardless of my physical disability. Today, children are less physically active, and instead, playing video games and watching TV. As someone who loves various physical activities, I understand the positive impact physical activity has on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. I think this is especially true for children with disabilities. One of the biggest issues is the availability of community physical activity programs for children with disabilities.
With the high obesity rate among Americans – even higher in people with disabilities – communities have the responsibility to provide fitness or physical activity programs for people of all abilities. Today, it’s amazing to find so many adaptive sports and recreational opportunities available to people with disabilities, while twenty years ago many of these opportunities were non-existent.
Many of these adaptive sport and physical activity programs are run by non-profit organizations, and now park districts are providing programs. However, it’s still not enough. Local communities should be collaborating with school districts to provide programs. Disabilities in general are more “visible” and recognizable in mainstream society now. And, people with disabilities who are living in every community have the right to have fitness/physical activity programs be available to them – just like individuals without disabilities.
Besides the availability of community fitness/physical activity programs, there lies another issue – getting the word out to people. One of the complaints among parents and people with disabilities is that they are unaware these kinds of programs exist. One of the reasons why so many individuals with disabilities do not participate in physical activity is because they don’t realize they can, and that it’s available. Agency outreach activity needs to be expanded.
In order to get people with disabilities to participate in fitness/physical activity programs they need to be available in communities. This would eliminate people having to search for programs, and accessing them would be easy. One challenge that seems to occur is engaging people with disabilities. I believe that the solution starts in communities, and in collaboration with school districts.
In addition, providing inclusive programs, as well as programs for young children, is a great start. By exposing children to fitness/physical activity programs at an early age, they will continue the behavior as they get older, and receive the health benefits from it. The key is to have programs be available and accessible – the community is a perfect place to start!
What are other ways communities can engage people with disabilities to be physically active?