Inspired. Active. Independent: The Power of Storytelling in Healthy Living

 

While statistics show that participation in sport and physical activities is important to a person’s overall health, but how do we ensure all Canadians have access to these opportunities?

Para NB – Sport & Recreation, a provincial program in New Brunswick, Canada that works with persons with disabilities, recently launched a project to share and profile multimedia-based stories of five New Brunswickers with physical disabilities, who are active in parallel sport, recreation and active living activities. In a province with the second highest disability rate in Canada these stories are integral for changing the common stereotypes around disability and physical activity. Courtenay Brennan, manager of Para NB, tells us more about the campaign and the transformative power of activity in the lives of persons living with disabilities:

 

What is the Inspired. Active. Independent campaign all about and how did you come up with the idea? Where can people expect to see these profiles?

Courtenay Brennan: Our objective with the Inspired. Active. Independent. campaign and this project was to plan, deliver, share and promote a series of profile stories of youth, adult women and seniors on experiences in para sport, recreation and active living in an effort to increase knowledge and awareness of abilities and potential to participate in para sport and recreation.

Developing and sharing success stories is a great way to show others what is possible and what opportunities exist. We expect this project to continue to grow for years to come and the materials developed will be something we can share well into the future. Sharing success stories with persons with a physical disability to encourage involvement will be something that Para NB continues to do through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

 

What story are you hoping to tell with this campaign?

Brennan: We want to share these best practice stories, profiles of peers and ambassadors for active living with the goal of creating more awareness of the potential to participate in parallel sport and recreation activities. Awareness is what leads to increased participation and ultimately, a higher quality of life for the youth, and adult women and seniors with a physical disability in New Brunswick that are our target audience for this project. These videos and stories are shared by rehabilitation counselors, teachers, parents, municipalities, organizations, recreation therapists and friends for a long time to come. For people experiencing the stories through various mediums, it can mean a positive change in their lives.

 

What are the healthy living needs of persons living with a physical disability? Do they differ from persons living without a disability?

Brennan: People with a disability do not have the same access to physical activity as persons without a disability. This population is generally more inactive than persons without a disability. This inactivity often further complicates functional limitations by increasing isolation and risk for a range of health conditions, such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Engaging regularly in physical activity has multiple benefits for all who participate, both at recreational and competitive levels. These benefits help individuals to lead healthier lives in their communities. The positive effects of participation in physical activity are overwhelming and an active lifestyle is beneficial to all New Brunswickers; it is particularly beneficial to persons with a disability.

Physical activity provides persons with a disability with an opportunity to reach a higher state of overall wellbeing and improves their quality of life, their overall health, increased levels of self-esteem and a greater chance of living independently for longer with increased mobility. For individuals with a disability, these benefits help make coping with the everyday challenges of life easier, and can even prevent relapses of certain disabilities or health problems. By enhancing access to recreation activities, persons with a physical disability are provided with more opportunities to participate, succeed and reach their full potential.

 

Tell us about the main challenge your persons with a disability are facing today when it comes to participating in parallel sport and recreation? 

Brennan: Many persons with a physical disability want to participate in sport and recreation but they face many barriers such as transportation, facility accessibility, financial issues, or lack of adapted equipment. Strategies are needed to engage this population so they can participate in positive recreation experiences. We work to provide the proper supports are in place for persons with a physical disability when engaging in parallel sport and recreation to ensure they have a positive experience. Accessible transportation and facility accessibility continue to be barriers to participation as well and Para NB works to ensure that events and activities we partner on provide accessible transportation to an accessible facility.

We also launched our provincial adapted Equipment Loan Service in August 2013 to provide provincial sport organizations, recreation organizations, municipalities, schools and New Brunswickers with a physical disability access to the proper adapted equipment to participate in their sport or activity of choice. Adapted equipment is expensive and rarely available to schools. One multisport wheelchair can cost $3,000!

 

What are the future trends in healthy, active living for persons with a physical disability?

Brennan: For over ten years, there has been a growing interest in the topic of parallel sports and recreation activities, curiosity has grown and the importance of opportunities for persons with a disability is recognized. The Canadian Paralympic Committee has greatly contributed to the growing interest of the public and as awareness is growing, many people now follow and support athletes at the Paralympic Games, some of those athletes being from New Brunswick. “Para” refers to parallel meaning alongside and opportunities for persons with a physical disability are growing immensely. There are more and more people getting involved in parallel sport and recreation everyday not only as a participant with a physical disability but as community leaders, coaches, officials and volunteers. We expect to see further development of the sports and activities available to individuals in various regions in New Brunswick. There’s also an opportunity for Physical Education Specialists to borrow adapted equipment for students in their classes to participate in parallel sport and recreation activities alongside their peers with a disability. It’s very exciting to think about the development of parallel sport and recreation in our province!

 

Editor's Note: To learn more about Para NB you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Follow #PlayExchange on Twitter to stay updated on the wealth of ideas for healthy living emerging across Canada, and check out the Facebook page to become part of the conversation.