‘When it comes to physical activity and sport, there are always options’


Two people, hi-fiving enjoying exercise in the gym

When it comes to the joy of exercise, too often those with disabilities are left on the sidelines, as a survey co-ordinated by Cara among more than 200 people with disabilities shows. While more than 80 per cent of respondents agree physical activity is a priority, less than 20 per cent think it is accessible. More than 70 per cent believe organisations do not do enough to support people with disabilities to be physically active.

The worrying thing about these findings, says Niamh Daffy, chief executive of Cara, is that a survey in 2005 threw up similar results and indicated similar barriers. Up to this, Cara has worked mostly with the sports sector to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. But direct consultation has highlighted how, above all, people with disabilities want to be involved in day-to-day physical activity that the rest of us take for granted, from walking in local parks to cycling on greenways, swimming, gym sessions, dancing or an exercise class. Active Healthy Me is aimed at cultivating that everyday feeling of wellbeing and opportunities for moving, says Daffy.

The target audience is the 20,000 users of the 1,000-plus adult day services around the country, supported by a staff of more than 6,000. These services are attended by adults with intellectual disabilities, autism or complex physical disabilities. Daffy also sees the programme’s potential for use in special schools and older people’s residential care centres.

Sarah O’Brien, head of the HSE’s Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme, is hoping for “a very rapid uptake” of Active Healthy Me among day services. She reports “lots of positivity” in briefing meetings with managers. For services that might need additional support to run the programme, skills practice workshops are being offered to build staff confidence.

She envisages that staff and service users will become more aware of the importance of physical activity in terms of mental and social wellbeing, and more likely to integrate it into their planning and overall service design.

The above is an extract from an article by Sheila Wayman published on The Irish Times website on Tue Jan 10 2023


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