Physical Activity Participation Barriers for People with a Disability

Disability | NDIS | STARTTraining

Physical Activity Participation Barriers for People with a Disability


Physical activity barriers exist in many different forms for various populations. Particularly for those living with a disability, barriers to physical activity can be extremely limiting and impact quality of life. As of 2015, 18.3% of the population have a disability which equates to approximately 4.3 million people of the Australian population. ABS studies from 2010 indicate 68% of people with a disability participate in physical activity compared to 79% of participants without a disability. Although this figure may have decreased over the past decade with a rise in technology driven sedentary behaviour, the margin between groups is expected to have stayed similar.


People with a disability are more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle and develop chronic disease conditions over their lifetime. This highlights the ongoing need for intervention assistance and promotion of healthy lifestyle choices including exercise and/or sport. However, one of the major barriers that impacts on physical activity participation is the individual’s co-morbidities. These include conditions such as Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Mental Well-Being/Health etc. In many cases they prevent the participate from certain activities, therefore narrowing the scope of appropriate activities.


The Australian Sport Commission state that individuals with a disability are just as keen to participate in sport and physical activity even when limitations are experienced and there is no doubt however that inclusion and opportunity to participate in physical activity for people with a disability is increasing. For example, the success and exposure of the 2018 Invictus Games will no doubt increase for injured, sick, or wounded Veterans participating in the fifth Invictus Games in the Netherlands May 2020. The 2018 Commonwealth Games also saw continued inclusion at a global level. This does not necessarily mean that more people with a disability are participating in sport and exercise but that more pathways are emerging for participation in such activities.


On a national level, many individuals and families are grateful for the introduction of the NDIS. Commencing in various states in 2013, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) aims to provide support for all Australians under the age of 65 living with a permanent and significant disability. Recent figures indicate 17 730 individuals utilise exercise therapy and services within their plans. (COAG Disability Reform Council, 2019). Registered providers such as Exercise Physiologists can offer expert services to participants as part of their plan. Often an Exercise Physiologist will collaborate with the individual’s multidisciplinary team to maximise interventions in order to enhance functional activities apart of daily living. As the NDIS continually uptakes more participants with a disability, the demand for Exercise Physiology related services are expected to increase.


A lot of my work within the disability field consists of less traditional versions of sport activities in a gym setting. Often, conventional sport and physical activity were not enjoyed due to past experiences that created negative attitudes towards these particular activities and overall greatly impacted on current weekly physical activity levels. Additionally, other work consists of exercise based interventions that assists the participant’s current sporting pursuits. In some cases this is performance based exercise in more of a resistance exercise setting, while other examples include games revolving around the participant’s selected sport. This can be a useful tool as if the sport is already an interest and a link can be made from the exercise to the sport, then participant buy in is generally achieved.


Furthermore, removing barriers to exercise is a massive area within an Exercise Physiologist’s role. This applies to all Exercise Physiology populations that are worked with but can sometimes be more of a challenge for people with a disability. However, I believe that once you can truly understand someone and what keeps them motivated, then it is now up to you to facilitate the environment to achieve what this individual requires.


Loxlee Blacket (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)