Recognizing Fitness — and Physical Therapy — as Part of International Day of Persons with Disabilities

This past weekend marked a day that physical therapy and fitness and  not be aware is recognized globally: International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Writes the United Nations: “The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

In recognition of this day — and of the 2017 theme “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all” — we wanted to note the role that physical activity and physical therapy play in helping people with disabilities.

The American Physical Therapy Association notes: “An estimated 56.7 million people in the United States, or 19%-20% of the population have a disability. Staying active while living with a disability can help you strengthen your heart, build strong muscles and bones, improve coordination, and make you feel better about yourself.”

Adaptive Sports

Fitness is central to any person’s well-being. Activities cited by the APTA include:

  • Cycling: “The most common way for individuals with disabilities to cycle is with the use of modified bikes.”
  • Golf: “Adaptive golf can be performed standing or sitting. Adaptive golf carts can help with stabilizing the body while swinging the club, and golf clinics can teach individuals with disabilities about adaptive equipment and how to play golf with various disabilities involving limb loss, paralysis, sight, hearing, and emotional, mental, and intellectual impairments.”
  • Horseback Riding: “Hippotherapy, therapeutic horseback riding, therapeutic horsemanship, and equine-assisted therapy are terms associated with using horses in the lives of people to improve physical, social, cognitive, sensory, and emotional well-being. Many of these programs are led by certified instructors and therapists.”
  • Snow Skiing: “Snow skiing can be performed sitting or standing, and people with all types of disabilities can enjoy skiing with the assistance of adaptive equipment. For individuals with less strength, stability, and coordination, skiing can be performed sitting in a bucket seat on 1 or 2 skis (monoskis and bi-skis respectively). Handheld outriggers are used for stability and steering.”
  • Swimming: “Adaptive swimming includes all swim strokes and distances. Individuals with various disabilities can participate, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, and those with cognitive and physical disabilities of all kinds. Because adaptive swimming does not require special equipment, an individual with a disability can participate in a program in their area, with very little modifications.”

The American Physical Therapy Association also notes the support physical therapists have long provided to children with disabilities: “Physical therapists examine and evaluate children having a variety of sensory and motor disabilities. Physical therapists plan and implement programs that will help these children attain their optimal educational potential and benefit from special education. Physical therapists should assume a role in the development of a child’s Individual Educational Program (IEP), or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), and make recommendations for increasing a child’s ability to participate in educational activities. In addition, physical therapists contribute unique administrative, consultative, management, and teaching skills that help modify the educational environment so that children may benefit from their educational placement.”