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Physical activity can play a key role in breaking down disability barriers

International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is held on 3 December each year, with the overarching focus of how society can strive for inclusivity through the removal of physical, technological and attitudinal barriers for people with disability.

This year, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) wants to remind the Australian public of the role exercise and sports science professionals can play in helping to remove some of these barriers for people with disability.

Statistics show that 18.5% of the population have a disability, which is approximately 4.2 million people. With such a majority of Australians living with a disability, the importance of inclusion is significant, and breaking down these barriers where possible is vital,” says ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

A key way to break down some of these barriers can be through participation in sport and physical activity. Australians love their sport, irrespective of their health, with the Australian Sports Commission reportingthat people with a disability are just as keen to participate even though they may experience limitations.

In 2010, 68% of people with a disability participated in sport, however a significant barrier that was met for people with disability, hindering their participation, was their co-morbidities e.g. obesity, CAD, diabetes, mental well-being/health etc.

Other barriers discouraging disabled people from being involved in physical activity include access to ramp/lift, appropriate equipment, support staff and communication barriers.

“Exercise and sports science professionals, such as Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP), Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES) and Accredited Sports Scientists (ASpS), are suitably qualified to work at a community level to help overcome these barriers and strengthen the resilience of people with disability,” adds Ms Hobson-Powell.

ESSA accredited professionals can provide patient-centred care to remove that physical barrier and society’s attitudinal barriers, by encouraging physical activity that is right for the individual person.

“Traditional versions of sport also don’t have to be the main focus. An accredited professional can work with you to determine what is best,” explains Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Beth Sheehan. 

“There are varying levels of disabilities that require input from a wide range of health and fitness professionals. For consumers requiring clinical input, AEPs can assist by providing services under the NDIS and collaborating with a multidisciplinary team to further enhance activities of daily living and functional tasks.”

“For athletes who are requiring higher level strength and training and sport specific tasks, an AES and ASpS are equipped to support the sport specific training required and can collaborate with the athletes medical team,” notes Ms Sheehan.

Fundamentally, people with a disability are entitled to equal access of care and community activities that can be facilitated by ESSA professionals, and there is a wide range of organisations providing resources and funding support for disability and physical activity or sport:


For more information on International Day of People with Disability, visit the IDPwD website.

To locate your local accredited exercise professional, you can visit the ESSA website.