The Fitness Clinic for Physically Disabled: San Diego State University

By Aufsesser, Peter M.; Burke, James P. | Palaestra, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

The Fitness Clinic for Physically Disabled: San Diego State University


Aufsesser, Peter M., Burke, James P., Palaestra


The Fitness Clinic for Physically Disabled at San Diego State University, founded in 1983, has been successful in assisting individuals with a wide variety of physical and neuromuscular disabilities to improve their muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, overall health, and other motor abilities (Aufsesser, 1988). Experience with over 200 participants with disabilities has indicted that with improvement in fitness comes an improvement in functional independence. This is demonstrated when participants in the program with physical disabilities of various severity assume greater responsibility for their personal care and other activities in their daily routines. In some instances, the program has aided individuals with severely limiting conditions (quadriplegia and multiple sclerosis) in increasing their basic muscular strength, endurance, and balance allowing them more independence in their daily activities (Aufsesser & Burke, 1994). These activities include independent transfers, driving with hand controls, or showering unassisted. In other cases, individuals with conditions of varying severity have developed physical work capacities to seek employment and enable them to be more financially independent. Finally, for participants who are affected by neurodegenerative conditions, exercise can help in maintaining their physical work capacity and continued independence at home and in the work place. Goals the Fitness Clinic establishes for its participants are similar to those in mainstream programs--the difference is our program has been able to focus on functional improvement, as well as physical development. This varied approach has greatly enhanced the overall quality of the participants' lives.

The number of physical activity programs for individuals with disabilities, especially physical disabilities, has increased tremendously since the legislation of the 1970s. Although professionals have realized since the 1960s that there is a link between physical work capacity, independence, and vocational success for individuals with physical disabilities, the past decade has brought the concept into clear focus (Burke, 1991; Lasko-McCarthey & Aufsesser, 1990).

The Fitness Clinic, in its 14th year of operation, was established in September, 1983, with the assistance of a grant from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. This grant support ended in May, 1986, and the Clinic has been self-supporting ever since. The Clinic was developed to provide adapted physical education and pre-physical therapy students with a needed practicum site to work with individuals with a wide variety of physical disabilities. Since its inception, the Clinic has provided over 1,200 students with a quality laboratory setting in which to apply and hone their therapeutic and fitness related skills. This program has proven to be an essential learning experience for students in adapted physical education credential programs, athletic training, and pre-physical therapy. In the Clinic's 14 years, over 220 students have completed the adapted physical education credential, 40 have entered physical therapy schools, and hundreds have received their National Athletic Training Certification (NATA). Currently, 350 students seeking admission to physical therapy school are enrolled at San Diego State and will participate in the clinic as part of their undergraduate training. The Clinic has served over 200 individuals, ranging in age from 9 to 87 years, with a wide variety of disabilities. From a humble beginning with 19 participants in three classes, to the present (Spring 1997) with 65 community participants and 16 university students in eight sections, the Fitness Clinic provides individualized fitness and wellness activities. In the 1996-97 year over 120 students assisted individuals with disabilities in the Clinic. The Fitness Clinic, utilizing students as practitioners, provides an excellent example of a dual training/service model program. …

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The Fitness Clinic for Physically Disabled: San Diego State University
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