Perceived barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for children with disability: a qualitative study

Nora Shields & Anneliese Synnot. BMC Pediatrics. Published: 19 January 2016

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Background: Children with disability engage in less physical activity compared to their typically developing peers. Our aim was to explore the barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for this group.

Methods : Ten focus groups, involving 63 participants (23 children with disability, 20 parents of children with disability and 20 sport and recreation staff), were held to explore factors perceived as barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity by children with disability. Data were analysed thematically by two researchers.

Results: Four themes were identified: (1) similarities and differences, (2) people make the difference, (3) one size does not fit all, and (4) communication and connections. Key facilitators identified were the need for inclusive pathways that encourage ongoing participation as children grow or as their skills develop, and for better partnerships between key stakeholders from the disability, sport, education and government sectors. Children with disabilities’ need for the early attainment of motor and social skills and the integral role of their families in supporting them were considered to influence their participation in physical activity. Children with disability were thought to face additional barriers to participation compared to children with typical development including a lack of instructor skills and unwillingness to be inclusive, negative societal attitudes towards disability, and a lack of local opportunities.

Conclusions: The perspectives gathered in this study are relevant to the many stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of effective interventions, strategies and policies to promote participation in physical activity for children with disability. We outline ten strategies for facilitating participation.

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