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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

Introduction


Since the influential work of Morris and colleagues back in the early 1950s,1 there has been a plethora of research documenting the benefits of physical activity in reducing morbidity and mortality.2 Recent findings from several landmark studies have confirmed that moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity leading to higher levels of fitness confer immense benefits to one's health.3,4 As a result of these studies, fitness today has grown in importance in terms of maintaining health and well being.1 Federal agencies such as the Surgeon General's Office, National Institutes of Health, and American College of Sports Medicine, have issued statements calling for higher levels of physical activity among all Americans including children.4

Dovetailing with this fitness movement has been another movement led by persons with disabilities. One of the major outcomes of the Disability Rights Movement was the passage of three anti-discrimination laws, namely, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.5 In particular, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or better known as IDEA, has increased the visibility of children with disabilities in the public school system.6 Today, the majority of children with disabilities are "mainstreamed" into regular programs, including physical education.6

Although IDEA has had a tremendous impact on improving the quality of education for children with disabilities, the majority of these children are still underrepresented in physical fitness and sports programs throughout the country.7 While most nondisabled children are involved in several different sports, many children with disabilities are excluded from participation because of the high level of competition and emphasis on winning.8 Aside from an occasional special recreation program in a few scattered cities around the country, most children with disabilities are not afforded the same opportunities to participate in sports and recreational activities as their nondisabled peers.7 This is unfortunate because many sports such as soccer and basketball are good vehicles for improving fitness.9

The school environment is not much better when it comes to improving the fitness levels of children with disabilities.6 Despite passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires all children with disabilities to take physical education, many programs are either too short in duration or place too little emphasis on fitness-related activities.10 Subsequently, children with disabilities get very little activity during the school day, do very little physical activity after school, and are often sedentary on the weekends.9


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