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Class ensures fitness for everyone

Kristen B. Morales

October 19, 2015

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When you have a disability, going to a traditional gym—and accessing its equipment—can be tedious enough to make you skip the experience entirely.

But what if you had a dedicated workout space and were paired with a coach to show you modified exercises? Then, getting into shape or losing some weight is an attainable goal.

This is the idea behind a quickly growing class offered by the Department of Kinesiology, "Introduction to Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities." The physical education class is open to students in any degree program. They get disability fitness training at the start of the semester and then are paired with members of the community.

They work one-on-one for three to six hours a week, depending on the number of credit hours they are taking, keeping in mind the goal set for their client—losing weight, for example, or gaining strength in a particular area.

The idea has been a hit for everyone involved. When the class first launched, there were eight UGA students and 12 community volunteers, says kinesiology doctoral student Ashley Fallaize. Today, the class has expanded to as many as 40 students in a semester, serving up to 30 community members.

The class also spawned research that was recently published in Disability and Health Journal looking at the overall impact of the program on the education of pre-healthcare professionals and the overall wellness of the participants. An added benefit is the opportunity for students to interact with the participants.

"You have different people to work with, and every day you're learning something new, so you have to adapt," says Shanice Reeves, a fourth-year exercise and sport science major. "I've learned how to adapt exercises for people with a range of disabilities."

Reeves is one of dozens of students who are also using the class to obtain a certificate in disability studies. She said the class is challenging, but it's excellent training for her future career as a physical therapist.

While transportation and the semester schedule are the biggest barriers for community participants, the program is a model for health education through its hands-on experiences and the interactions between students and participants. As the research study notes, "the program provides an inclusive environment where every person of all abilities can exercise and discuss healthy behaviors, which potentially helps to address a critical community need: Improving the health of all individuals."

Related links: Department of Kinesiology