Writer: Tiffany Whisner, Coles Marketing Communications
May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. It’s a great time to get moving and get committed to living a healthier and more active lifestyle!
From the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN), according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activities Among Youth, youth need 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day where they live, learn and play.
PCFSN Executive Director Shellie Pfohl says in her statement, “Research shows that when children are physically active, they achieve higher grades, record better attendance, and their behavior improves. Put simply, active kids do better.”
PCFSN is encouraging children and their families to get up, get out and get active! It could be exercise before school or work, or walking around the neighborhood with your family after dinner. We all should set aside time for some fun physical activity each day.
And this includes those people with disabilities or special needs.
Importance of a healthy lifestyle
Why do individuals with disabilities or special needs especially need to make sure a healthy lifestyle and exercise are an important part of their lives?
Studies have shown people with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to report poorer overall health, less access to adequate healthcare and physical inactivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with disabilities need healthcare and health programs just as much and for the same reasons anyone else does — to stay well, active and participate as a part of the community.
The CDC reports people with disabilities are often at a greater risk for health problems that can be prevented. This is due to having certain limitations as a result of specific types of disabilities.
Some of these health problems are also called secondary conditions and might include:
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Mental health and depression
- Overweight and obesity
- Pressure sores or ulcers
Other health conditions and chronic conditions can also be prevented. This starts with a healthy lifestyle, visiting a healthcare provider for preventive care and screenings, and learning how to manage specific health issues.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that more than a billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability. Additional key facts from WHO:
- Between 110 million and 190 million adults have significant difficulties in functioning.
- Rates of disability are increasing due to population aging and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes.
- People with disabilities have less access to healthcare services and therefore experience unmet healthcare needs.
Unfortunately, those with disabilities report seeking more healthcare than people without disabilities … and have greater unmet needs. Health promotion and prevention activities seldom target people with disabilities.
For example, women with disabilities receive less screening for breast and cervical cancer than women without disabilities. People with intellectual impairments and diabetes are less likely to have their weight checked. And adolescents and adults with disabilities are more likely to be excluded from sex education programs.
Working together for better access
So what can be done to improve the access to healthcare and related services and programs for those with disabilities? Governments can help improve health outcomes for those with disabilities by improving access to quality, affordable healthcare services.
According to WHO, healthcare standards need to be established related to care for people with disabilities. Where private health insurance dominates the world of healthcare financing, we need to ensure people with disabilities are covered and the premiums are affordable.
Disability education should be integrated into continuing education for all healthcare providers. Community workers should also be trained to help play a role in preventive healthcare services.
And when it comes to fitness facilities and equipment, design and access needs to be available and accessible to all people with disabilities.
Here is a great article from Anthony Marc Robles, a council member with PCFSN. He was born without his right leg. But that never stopped him from competing or enjoying sports and other activities. He says being active as a kid helped him become the man he is today.
“I am committed to empowering kids and adults with disabilities to experience freedom through sports and recreational activities,” he says. “However, not all children and adults with disabilities have access and opportunities to enjoy being active like I did. And since individuals with disabilities have a greater need for regular physical activity and good nutrition to prevent obesity and other chronic conditions, it is even more important that schools and communities provide equal opportunities for all Americans to lead healthy, active lives.”
Robles talks about the I Can Do It, You Can Do It! (ICDI) program. It is a health promotion model to facilitate access to sports and recreational activities and nutrition education for children and adults with disabilities.
ICDI facilitates and encourages opportunities for all Americans, regardless of ability, to lead a healthy lifestyle including regular physical activity and good nutrition. ICDI previously focused on youth participation and implemented nine sites across the country. Today, the program includes children AND adults with disabilities. The Council’s goal is to expand and implement the program in at least 100 sites nationwide over the next five years.
RecTech leads with vision and mission
Every day, projects, campaigns and organizations throughout the nation are working on ways to make exercise equipment, physical fitness devices and sports facilities more available and accessible to those people with disabilities.
A group at the forefront of this mission is RecTech, a research center dedicated to using technology to promote healthy, active lifestyles for people with disabilities. RecTech is a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center funded by National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).
“Exercise provides substantial health benefits throughout the body, including the brain, muscles, bones, heart and lungs,” says RecTech Director James H. Rimmer. “Approximately half of the U.S. adult population does not take advantage of these health benefits simply because they do not get enough exercise. And among people with disabilities, the numbers are much lower.”
One of the projects RecTech is working on is “Development of Adaptive Game Controllers and Energy Expenditure Tables for Active Video Games for Youths with Disabilities.”
This project has two goals:
- To develop adaptive game controllers that will allow youths with disabilities at functionally diverse levels to play active video games (AVG) at a satisfactory level
- To determine the energy expended playing AVGs in non-ambulatory youths with disabilities in order to create a list of MET (metabolic equivalent) values for each game
“Children with disabilities have lower levels of physical activity and fitness and higher levels of obesity compared to their non-disabled peers,” says RecTech’s Sangeetha Padalabalanarayanan. “Children and adults love gaming consoles and video games, including active video games (AVG), in which the player has to move about to control the action of the game rather than simply pressing buttons or moving a joystick. These games ‘bring you into the action’ of the game and show promise as a way of getting people of all ages to be more physically active while having some fun.
“Unfortunately, many people with disabilities are unable to play these games because the gaming consoles or games are not accessible for people with disabilities, including youth that are unable to stand, have balance issues, poor motor control or can’t use the body to perform game moves,” she continues. “Making AVG controllers accessible is a necessary first step toward finding ways youth with disabilities can increase their daily energy expenditure. That’s why RecTech currently has a project (D1) to develop game controllers and game controller adaptations that will allow children with a broad range of functional abilities to play AVGs with about the same amount of energy expenditure required of a non-disabled player.”
Mary Allison, a RecTech consumer and wheelchair user, tried a sample adaptation to the Wii Fit board.
“I think the concept of the accessible controller is great. It’s something that could be easily installed, used and transported. I could bring it to a friend’s house for game night! I would like to see added reinforcement and a higher lip on the front of the platform. This would increase my stability if I needed to lean forward during a game and allow me to play more confidently.”
Padalabalanarayanan says the long-term goal is to make AVGs accessible and to develop an evidence base for the use of AVGs as an exercise model for improving cardiorespiratory fitness and strength in youths with physical disabilities. To follow the progress of this project, please visit: http://rectech.org/inner.php?sheet=9.
Developing standards for all
Another RecTech project to highlight is “D3: Development of Uniform Standards for Accessible Fitness Equipment.”
The main goal of this project is to finalize a set of standards for strength and cardiovascular fitness equipment that will be supported by the leading standards authority in the U.S. through American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
“Currently, people with disabilities have to travel longer distances to find fitness centers with specialized equipment,” Padalabalanarayanan says. “Specialized equipment is usually only found in medical settings such physical therapy centers. Universally designed, accessible mainstream fitness equipment will allow people with disabilities to join public fitness facilities that are close to their home or places of work. Additionally, accessible mainstream fitness equipment will offer people with disabilities the social benefits of being able to work out with their friends and family.”
That’s why having equal access and opportunity to fitness equipment and facilities for all is so important.
In July 2013, two new ASTM International standards were developed and published to provide specifications for fitness equipment that will be accessible to users of all abilities.
Some of the new standards include:
- Multiple access points to get on/off equipment
- Adjustment required for set up shall: not require the simultaneous use of two hands; avoid left/right bias; be easy to reach, use, insert or remove; and not require fine finger control, excessive wrist rotation, tight grasp or a pinch grip
- Detachable controls and adjustments shall be tethered
- Static handles or other appropriate structural components shall be provided in proximity to sitting surfaces to assist with transfer
- Text and fonts shall be in accessible format, i.e., larger, non-serif, tactile, color contrast
- All emergency/safety stops shall be of a color, shape and size that is easily distinguishable from other available controls
“With growing social and political pressure to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities in health/fitness facilities, standards that identify critical elements of universal design for fitness equipment are becoming increasingly important,” as RecTech states in its project background.
To follow the progress of this project, please visit: http://rectech.org/inner.php?sheet=2.
Also, the RESNA Standards Committee on Inclusive Fitness (IF) was founded in June 2012 in order to develop guidelines to help fitness facility operators, trainers and staff members identify materials that are available to them in order to make their fitness environment, including layout, equipment and programming, more universally accessible to people of all abilities, including those with a disability. Visit www.resna.org to learn more!
What’s new? Check out RESNA!
Where can you see cutting-edge RecTech devices and hundreds of other technology solutions along with educational sessions and internationally-recognized speakers?
RESNA 2014 Annual Conference! This year, the international conference is racing into Indianapolis!
Designed by and for people passionate about the use of assistive technology to improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities, RESNA 2014 offers educational sessions, scientific paper sessions, posters, three plenary sessions with internationally-recognized speakers and a large exhibit hall.
Don’t miss topics like:
- Power Wheelchair Access: Determining and Optimizing Access for Independent Mobility
- When Optimal Isn’t Possible: Home Modification Tips from the Trenches
- A Guided Conversation on Apps: What Works!
- Addressing the More Challenging Needs: Hands and Eyes-On with the Latest Computer and Smartphone Accessibility Hardware and Software
Plus, the Assistive Technology Exhibit Hall is open and free to the public on Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14. RecTech is just one of many exhibitors at the conference. RecTech staff will be available at booth #31 in the exhibit hall, which is open to the public. This all takes place at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.
For more information, visit: http://www.resna.org/conference/.
Learn about all the new information and technology available to those with disabilities and their families. And use those devices to make sure you get moving in May!