"It's not something that we just do for the sake of doing": Volunteers' experiences of quality participation in a community-based exercise program for people with physical disabilities


Individuals with physical disabilities may derive fitness and psychosocial benefits from participating in community-based exercise programs, when both the quantity (amount) and the quality (subjective experiences) of their participation is targeted. Although full participation includes both of these aspects, quantity is often prioritized. No deliberate investigations of how to promote aspects of quality participation for this population exist, especially among those facilitating program member participation. The purpose of this study was to explore the participation experiences of volunteers in a community-based exercise program for individuals with physical disabilities, to develop a holistic understanding of how to foster quality participation for program members in this setting. Seven student volunteers at Revved Up, an adaptive exercise program, participated in: a) interviews to develop a timeline of past volunteering and reflect upon their experiences with program members, before and after their 12-week volunteering term, respectively, and b) audio diaries to capture 'in-the-moment' accounts of subtle shifts in their perceptions of quality throughout the term. Thematic analysis theoretically grounded in interpretivism indicated that participants experienced meaningful aspects of, and outcomes derived from, their participatory experience at Revved Up. Aspects or outcomes were perceived to be more salient in nature if a participant experienced them in the past. A volunteer's meaningful participation often translated to increased effort to enhance program members' participation. This study provides preliminary evidence that volunteers experience valuable aspects and outcomes of participation in Revved Up, and may be promoters of quality participation for individuals with physical disabilities in an exercise setting.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Canadian Graduate Scholarship and Insight Development Grant