Leveling the playing field: Igniting physical activity among Canadian youth with disabilities


Physical activity (PA) is critical for optimal health and well-being, although the majority of Canadian youth are inactive. While of concern for typically developing (TD) youth, there are even greater implications for those with disabilities. Getting Canadian youth more active is part of our country's agenda and greater priority must be directed towards incorporating the needs, interests, and abilities of youth with disabilities into national PA initiatives. The purpose of this presentation is to provide an overview of the research surrounding the development, implementation, and evaluation of community-based PA programs in youth with disabilities. Preliminary work with youth with physical disabilities within the Greater Toronto Area revealed overall low self-reported PA levels (M = 2.43/5), as well as poor PA attitudes (M = 2.13/5); no differences emerged for gender or age (ps > .20). Results from an initial pilot of an inclusive PA program for youth (TD and with disabilities) in middle school revealed high engagement and interest in the program (M attendance of 80%), and improvements in self-determined motivation (d = 0.41), and objective sedentary and PA behaviour (ds = 0.63 and 0.25, respectively). Additional qualitative research with youth (TD and with disabilities) in high school revealed that PA programs which are of moderate intensity, and that offer opportunities for acceptance of others' abilities, choice, and friendships are of interest. Overall, these findings highlight the importance of considering youth's interests and motivations when designing and implementing PA programs, and the need for more rigorous, theory-driven research within this population.