Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Children with Disabilities Need Better Access to Sport

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Children with Disabilities Need Better Access to Sport

Article excerpt

Children with disabilities need better access to sport

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Daniel Goldowitz, Professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics, University of British Columbia; Jean-Paul Collet, Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, and Keiko Shikako-Thomas, Canada Chair in Childhood Disability, Participation and Knowledge Translation, and Assistant Professor in Occupational Therapy, McGill University

Canada's 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, published by the national non-profit organization ParticipACTION, gives Canadian children and youth an overall D+ grade for physical activity.

It calls for Canadian kids to get up and move.

For the first time, the report makes specific mention of the importance of physical activity to children with disabilities. Our team at the Kids Brain Health Network proudly contributed to, and enthusiastically endorses, its findings and recommendations.

This report card focuses on the connection between exercise and brain health, not for the sake of fitness alone, but for the health of their developing brains. It is a vital clarion call for change.

However, if all Canadian children are to enjoy their rights to play and participate, that call needs to be supported and amplified by voices at all levels.

Multiple, well-identified barriers stand in the way of children and youth with disabilities who want -- and absolutely need -- to be active. Research, commentary and coverage have yet to uproot those obstacles.

Lack of equipment, inaccessible facilities

Strategy and policy are important promoters of physical activity and sport, but when it comes to adapted programming for kids with disabilities, they are distinctly lacking.

Most extracurricular physical activity programming in Canada is offered through city and community organizations. There are many excellent accessible sites, but not enough to meet the need, and there is little or no coordination of efforts or offerings.

A lack of appropriate equipment, coupled with a lack of professionals trained to support physical activity among children and youth with different ability levels, discourages participation.

Often, existing adapted and inclusive activities are not known to parents of children with disabilities, as they depend on word of mouth. Additional barriers can include inaccessible facilities and high costs of entry.

One parent told us: "I was so tired of this experience of trying something, and having my son feel like a failure because he can't meet the expectations." This mother and her son had both had enough.

Their frustration is such a frequent experience it has triggered interest in improving crucial first experiences with sport for children of all abilities.

Early, positive exposure to sports and physical activity encourages children to try and not give up. But negative experience is a significant deterrent -- especially to ongoing participation for children with disabilities.

A significant step towards inclusion came last week, with the tabling of the federal Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The Act proposes to identify, remove and prevent accessibility barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.

This long-awaited legislation addresses federally-run programs and built environments, but it remains to be seen whether it will address or remove barriers to participation in sport and leisure activity.

Active kids grow stronger

Let's focus for a moment on what the data is telling us about why physical activity is so important for children and youth with disabilities. …

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