Exploring the preferences and support needs of persons with sensory disabilities when working with qualified exercise professionals in an exercise context


Persons with sensory disabilities (PWSD) encounter numerous barriers to participation in exercise, exacerbating the rates of physical inactivity and negative health outcomes. Qualified exercise professionals (QEPs) are a potential avenue to reduce such barriers as well as facilitate quality participation (QP; i.e., positive subjective experiences) for PWSD. However, QEPs currently lack sufficient training to effectively support PWSD during exercise. This study, adopting a critical realist approach, sought to gain insight from the lived experiences of PWSD regarding their needs, expectations, and preferences when working with QEPs in a community-based setting. Due to the exclusion of PWSD within mainstream society, limited opportunities currently exist for PWSD to be heard within research and fundamental decision-making processes. As such, we conducted semi-structured interviews with n=4 participants to amplify the voices of PWSD and elucidate their lived experiences in exercise contexts. Informed by the QP Framework, interview transcripts were deductively analyzed. Participants highlighted various themes and strategies related to fostering QP in exercise for PWSD, including a QEP’s adaptability and willingness to learn. Findings highlight various support strategies (e.g., employing diverse communication strategies, providing support that is applicable to the needs and experiences of exercisers, and offering flexibility in exercise plans) for QEPs to facilitate the QP of PWSD in community-based exercise. Insight from this study will inform the creation of a gold-standard training curriculum for QEPs, while facilitating lasting improvements in the accessibility and inclusion of PWSD.