Challenges for Facilitators and Service Users 5. 4. 5

Author: Jasna Vešligaj Damiš, Yoana Filipic

Keywords: location, facilities, communication, perception

This chapter draws on the research and experience of facilitators in order to outline the challenges that facilitators/coaches/ trainers and persons with disabilities themselves face when planning or participating in physical activity. Many authors describe multiple specific characteristics and challenges they face when organizing adapted physical activity programmes (Bodde and Dong-Chul, 2009; Frey et al., 2005)

What we first observe is the learning of motor skills, which should be taken into account during the implementation of the activity. We plan more time for consolidation of skills - the more complex the skill, the harder it is to acquire. The degree of flexibility is reduced, and in the activities where coordination is needed, the rigidity of the muscles is visible. During the performing of the new skill, there are excessive movements that are present for a long time and are difficult to eliminate. People with special needs often strain the wrong muscles, hyperactivity or muscle hypoactivity also occurs.

The challenges are organized according to B. Horne´s criteria in “Making Sport and Physical Activity Inclusive for Disabled People, 2016” (in Clemete 2017) and Dowling’s criteria in Sport, Coaching and Intellectual Disability. So we divided bridges and challenges into two main categories:


  • Facility: No accessible buildings/facilities, waiting lists
  • Equipment: Lack of accessible exercise equipment, lack of suitable equipment
  • Health and safety: Pain, lack of energy, health conditions, lack of strength, fatigue, longer to develop skills, obesity, decreased ability to understand rules and interpret instructions, poor motor skills, prosthesis (which can cause corns or blisters during walking or running so a number of athletes chose to take part in wheelchair sports or another type of sports in which the prosthesis was not required) (Bragaru et al, 2013).
  • Location: Lack of transportation, buildings or facilities located far away.
  • Expense: Programme and equipment costs, complicated family situation due to high extra costs for taking care of person with disability
  • Support from others: Unqualified staff that cannot modify or adapt individual and group exercise classes for people with disabilities, not having necessary staff or support, not having knowledgeable staff, lack of interest from the administration to adapt activities
  • Communication: Lack of specific knowledge about the benefits of physical activity, lack of knowledge about how to exercise, lack of information about physical activity, no counselling, limited partnerships between sectors
  • Suitability: High level competition, emphasis on winning, no facilities adapted for a person with disability.


  • Personal perceptions: Lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence about exercising in public, perception that exercise is too difficult, negative mood, depression, anxieties, fears, frustration and even time management (a busy schedule or a busy daily life, taking care of children, daily household activities or work were can be a barrier) (Bragaru et al, 2013).
  • Attitudes from others: Discriminatory practices at fitness centres and other recreational venues, other people´s negative attitudes, not having a role model, overprotecting parents, parental exhaustion and therefore, the parents themselves discourage

Bridges to overcome those barriers

In the second part of this article we would like to suggest possible encouraging factors and changes that may enable involvement in sports and physical activities (Heller et al., 2002; Howie et al., 2012; Messent et al., 1999; Robertson & Emerson, 2010; Temple, 2007).


  • Facility: Accessible facilities to physical activity or sports in the community, good surface for walking or running, parks and playgrounds available in the community,
  • Equipment: Direct exercise equipment, adapted exercise equipment
  • Health and safety: Maintenance of fitness/ muscle strength, maintenance of functional independence, walking ability, wheelchair skills, perceiving health benefits, physical appearance, weight loss, endurance.
  • Location: Transportation, Good weather
  • Expense: Better funding of programmes and play areas
  • Support from others: Social support, having a good trainer, friends are supportive or physically active, family is supportive or physically active, doing chores at home.
  • Communication: Awareness of opportunities for sport and physical activity, good communication between coaches, social contact, asking for help, collaborative approach between organisations.
  • Suitability: Training in small groups, playing individual/dual sports, playing team sport, involving favourite figures/interests, programme emphasis on improvement of social skills and self-confidence.


  • Personal perceptions: Perception of relaxation and fun, attitude that exercise has health benefits, desire to be active, positive attitude towards being challenged, acceptance of the disability, view of sports and physical activity as an opportunity for social encounters, feeling accepted as part of a group, feeling recognized, feeling rewarded.
  • Attitudes from others: Important others awareness of the benefits of physical activity, relatives’ perseverance, relatives’ assertiveness, being accepted by peers.

Aside from the practical strategies, and to support people with disability access to sports activities there is need to encourage government for wider access to many other kinds of opportunities within individuals’ communities. Limited by dependency on the attitudes of carers people with disability remain subject to significant discrimination.


Bode, A.E. & Dong-Chul, S. (2009) A review of social and environmental barriers to physical activity for adults with intellectual disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 2, 57–66

Bragaru, M., Van Wilgen, C. P., Geertzen, J. H., Ruijs, S. G., Dijkstra, P. U., & Dekker, R. (2013). Barriers and facilitators of participation in sports: a qualitative study on Dutch individuals with lower limb amputation. PLoS One, 8(3), e59881.

Clemente, I. (2017) Barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for children with disabilities A systematic literature review. (Master Thesis) Retrieved from

Frey, G.C., Buchanan, A.M. & Rosser Sandt, D.D. (2005) ‘I’d Rather Watch TV’: An examination of physical activity in adults with mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 43, 241–254.

Hassan, D., Dowling, S., & McConkey, R. (2014). Sport, Coaching and Intellectual Disability. London: Routledge.

Heller, T., Hsieh, K. & Rimmer, J. (2002) Barriers and supports for exercise participation among adults with Down syndrome. Journal of Gerentological Social Work, 38, 161–177.

Howie, E.K., Barnes, T.L., McDermott, S., Mann, J.R., Clarkson, J. & Meriwether, R.A. (2012) Availability of physical activity resources in the environment for adults with intellectual disabilities. Disability Health Journal, 5 (1), 41–48.

Mahy, J., Sheilds, N., Taylor, N.F. & Dodd, K.J. (2010) Identifying facilitators and barriers to physical activity for adults with Down syndrome. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 54 (9), 795–805.

Messent, P.R., Cooke, C.B. & Long, J. (1999) Primary and secondary barriers to physically active healthy lifestyles for adults with learning disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 9, 409–419.

Robertson, J. & Emerson, E. (2010) Participation in sports by people with intellectual disabilities in England: A brief report. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 23, 616–622.

Temple, V.A. (2007) Barriers, enjoyment and preference for physical activity among adults with intellectual disability. International Journal of Rehabilitation Research, 30, 281–287.