Researcher creates practitioners’ resource that supports people with disabilities

A professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science led a study that looked at resources for practitioners to use while working with individuals with disabilities engaging in physical activities. She and her team built an important new tool for these practitioners.

This is knowledge translation in action. Faculty of Health Professor Rebecca Bassett-Gunter led a study, in collaboration with others from six Canadian universities (Queen’s University, McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology) to identify tools and resources for practitioners to use in supporting people with disabilities engaging in physical activity.

Rebecca Bassett-Gunter

Rebecca Bassett-Gunter

In addition to the study itself, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and published in the journal Disability & Heath (2019), the researchers created a catalogue of resources, a new knowledge product, so practitioners could easily find these resources.

“In the study, we were searching for, for example, a manual that would be useful to a physiotherapist to support a client with spinal cord injury to increase his or her physical activity participation. We ended up going beyond the study to build a new catalog of resources for practitioners. We were very excited and pleased to offer this new knowledge product,” Bassett-Gunter explains.

Important because lower levels of activity have health consequences

An expert in physical activity and health promotion, Bassett-Gunter specializes in the psychology of sport and physical activity participation among people living with disabilities.

She wanted to investigate this important research avenue because persons with physical disabilities engage in lower levels of physical activity than the general population and very few engage in sufficient activities to acquire health benefits. “Data suggest that in Canada only three per cent of people with physical disabilities engage in sufficient physical activity, and this can lead to chronic disease, lower levels of community engagement and poorer quality of life,” she emphasizes.

Bassett-Gunter believes there is a need for evidence-informed tactics to promote and support physical activity among people in this population. “Strategies that are directed towards practitioners and service providers in the health, rehabilitation, fitness and recreation domains may be particularly valuable,” she says.

People with physical disabilities engage in lower levels of physical activity than the general population and very few engage in sufficient activities to acquire health benefits

People with physical disabilities engage in lower levels of physical activity than the general population and very few engage in sufficient activities to acquire health benefits

Systematic scoping review provides fulsome overview

Bassett-Gunter’s team of researchers sought to undertake a systematic scoping review to identify resources that target the training and education of health and recreation practitioners to promote and support leisure time physical activity among persons with physical disabilities. A systematic scoping review seeks to lay out the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available.

These kinds of reviews typically address broad questions. Here, the primary and secondary research questions were:

  • What are the existing resources that target the training and education of health and recreation practitioners to promote and support physical activity among persons with physical disabilities?
  • What is the technical quality of existing resources that target the training and education of health and recreation practitioners to promote and support these activities among persons with physical disabilities?

This review included searches of academic and grey literature, online materials and expert consultation. Grey literature refers to materials and research produced by organizations outside of the traditional or academic publishing and distribution channels. This includes things like annual reports, working papers, government documents, etc.

Results: 46 resources were identified

The review was fruitful: forty-six resources of high technical quality were identified from academic, government, non-government and professional organizations. Most resources were targeted to a specific population of those with physical disabilities (e.g., people with spinal cord injury).

As noted, the paper goes beyond this initial finding to provide a listing of existing resources for practitioners working in these settings.

Bassett-Gunter believes that strategies targeting practitioners and service providers in the health, rehabilitation, fitness, and recreation domains may be particularly valuable.

Bassett-Gunter believes that strategies targeting practitioners and service providers in the health, rehabilitation, fitness, and recreation domains may be particularly valuable

Practitioners give two thumbs up on this new resource

Practitioners were very supportive of this new resource. Registered physiotherapist and clinic manager of Propel Physiotherapy, Sen Hoong Phang, said: “The Supporting Physical Activity among Canadians with Physical Disabilities catalogue is an easy and practical tool to help inform our clients on what the recommended type, frequency and intensity of exercises they could be participating in while living with a disability. From a clinician's perspective, this catalogue is a savvy, quick access tool, that engages our clients and encourages the discussion of continued physical activity and exercise beyond the walls of the clinic.”

Scott Forrester, manager of Fitness and Recreation, The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement, said: “Student volunteers play a key role in helping us deliver innovative physical activity programs for adults, youth and children experiencing disability, yet many of them come to us with little experience. This catalog is a great resource to share with our staff and volunteers so they can find the resources they need to support our participants.”

This work could be a key catalyst for change

The research team hopes this work will be a catalyst for action in further research and practice regarding the analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation of optimally effective resources targeting practitioners to promote and support physical activity among persons with disabilities.

To read the article, visit the journal’s website. To learn more about Bassett-Gunter, visit her Faculty profile page. To see the catalogue of resources, visit the website.

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By Megan Mueller, senior manager, Research Communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca