Physical activity can play a key role in breaking down disability barriers

Next Monday is International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), held on 3 December each year, with the overarching focus on empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality whilst celebrating and recognising the achievements of people with disability in the broader community.

This year, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) wants to remind the Australian public of the role exercise and sports science professionals can play in the removal of barriers for people with disability to ensure equality and inclusivity and help them reach their goals.

Statistics show that 18.5% of the population have a disability, which is approximately 4.2 million people. With such a majority of Australians living with a disability, the importance of inclusion is significant, and breaking down these barriers where possible is vital,” says ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

“A key way to break down barriers can be through participation in sport and physical activity. Australians love their sport, irrespective of their health, with the Australian Sports Commission reporting that people with a disability are just as keen to participate even though they may experience limitations.”

After the success of the 2018 Invictus Games held in Sydney this year, in which wounded, injured or sick veterans take part in sports, it was clear to see the impact partaking in sports and physical activity can have on those living with a disability.

In 2010, 68% of people with a disability participated in sport, however a significant barrier that was met for people with disability, hindering their participation, was their co-morbidities e.g. obesity, CAD, diabetes, mental well-being/health etc.

Exercise and sports science professionals, such as Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP), Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES) and Accredited Sports Scientists (ASpS), are suitably qualified to work at a community level to help overcome these barriers and strengthen the resilience of people with disability.

“ESSA accredited professionals can provide consumer-centred care to remove that physical barrier and society’s attitudinal barriers, by encouraging physical activity that is right for the individual person,” explains Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Beth Sheehan.

“There are varying levels of disabilities that require input from a wide range of health and fitness professionals. For consumers requiring clinical input, AEPs can assist by providing exercise physiology services under the NDIS and collaborating with a multidisciplinary team to further enhance activities of daily living and functional tasks.”

Traditional versions of sport also don’t have to be the main focus. An accredited professional can work with you to determine what is best.

“For athletes who are requiring higher level strength and training and sport specific tasks, an AES and ASpS are equipped to support the sport specific training required and can collaborate with the athletes medical team,” notes Ms Sheehan.

“The success of para-athletes in the recent 2018 Commonwealth Games also highlights the benefits of inclusion at a community, national and international level.”

Fundamentally, people with a disability are entitled to equal access of care and community activities that can be facilitated by ESSA professionals, and there is a wide range of organisations providing resources and funding support for disability and physical activity or sport:

For more information on International Day of People with Disability, visit the IDPwD website.

To locate your local accredited exercise professional, you can visit the ESSA website.