The benefits of physical activity for young people on both physical and mental health are widely recognized. Not only does it contribute to reducing the risks of cardiovascular accidents, but also to increasing young people’s self-esteem.

However, when it comes to recreational activities, particularly physical exercise, young people with functional limitations are very often excluded for several reasons. This exclusion may be linked to tangible or intangible constraints.

Visible to the naked eye, tangible constraints relate to the lack of adapted equipment and inadequate programmes as well as insufficient funding for services. Intangible constraints, on the other hand, relate to the emotional aspects and the perception of people without functional limitations, and also of young disabled people and their families. All these factors hinder the participation of young people with disabilities in physical education classes offered in schools and, in some way, contribute to the increasing obesity rate among these young people.

44% of disabled youth are limited in their recreational activities because of their functional disability. As a result, obesity rates tend to be higher among these young people. Doing sports would not only help develop their autonomy, but also provide mutual support.

Universal Accessibility, a Starting Point for Social Inclusion

Universal accessibility is the character of a product, process, service, information or environment which, in the interest of equity and in an exclusive approach, enables everyone to carry out activities autonomously and obtain equivalent results. It is the starting point for social inclusion of young people with disabilities in the recreation and sports sector. This is achieved through three important principles: equity, inclusion and autonomy. To promote the inclusion of young people with disabilities in sporting activities, it is essential to adapt the choices to the dynamics that promote these three principles.

The Recipe for Effective Interventions

The key players in the development of physical activities or recreational activities for young people with a functional limitation, i.e. the stakeholders, do not always have concrete advice for effective action. To remedy this, stakeholders must:

  1. Learn about young people;
  2. Adapt the rules and the way of playing;
  3. Vary the forms of communication to facilitate understanding of the instructions;
  4. Create a group dynamic;
  5. Modify the environment and the equipment;
  6. Set goals and nurture successes to develop youth perseverance;
  7. Register young people for competitions such as Défi sportif AlterGo, which will enable them to set goals to train throughout the year and exceed their limits.

Partnerships and Collaboration as Vectors for Social Inclusion

This advice cannot be useful if stakeholders are not actively involved in the development of universally accessible projects. It is therefore important to develop strategic partnerships and collaborations to achieve the ultimate goal of promoting social inclusion of young people with disabilities in recreation and sports.

Partners such as the Association québécoise pour le loisir des personnes handicapées (AQPLH), regional rehabilitation centres, and sports federations are important resources to support stakeholders. Continuing education and participation in conferences such as the Colloque Choisir de Gagner—a Défi sportif AlterGo initiative supported by Québec en forme, which is held every year in December—are also important resources.