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How Schools Can Adapt PE For Disabled Students


When I was in high school I was required just like everyone else to take a pe class to graduate. I have always been passionate about fitness and struggled with finding ways to stay active because of my disability so when I heard about adaptive pe I was hopeful. After I starting taking adapting pe I soon realized it was a total joke because they were treating all disabilities as one and it was either super easy for you or you had to sit out of an activity. Every disability is different and if you don’t take that into consideration when teaching adaptive physical education once your student finishes that requirement they wouldn’t have learned anything from it and won’t be encouraged to have a healthy active lifestyle because they will be convinced it’s too hard to do so. If you are an educator and not sure how you can make an impact on disabled students that they can take with them after they graduate here are some tips that may help.

Listen to disabled people- There is nothing worse than having a teacher that thinks they know more about your disability than you do. During our time in adaptive PE Karly and I very frequently had to do laps in freezing cold weather but because of Karly’s Muscular Dystrophy, cold weather is hard for her to tolerate so she would ask to stay in. How a girl in a power chair benefitted from doing laps on the track I will never understand because she wasn’t really doing anything except burning her battery! In most cases, they would not let her stay in because they thought she was just being lazy and did not want to participate in the activity. To help you get a better understanding of how cold weather affects people like Karly I asked her how cold weather affects her and here is what she said:

Cold weather has always been really hard for me to tolerate. Having muscular dystrophy means that I also have really poor circulation, especially in my legs and feet. Because of that, I’m always cold, to begin with, even in the middle of summer. So, when I go out when it’s below 60 degrees, I get colder faster than a lot of people, and then it takes me hours after I’ve come back inside to warm back up. Another reason I try not to be outside in the cold for too long is that I get sick really easily and have a hard time fighting it off. Just a common cold can last a month for me, and I’m at high risk for something like pneumonia which would be super dangerous for me. Some disabled people can’t tolerate cold weather and when disabled people tell that they are probably not saying that to get out of an activity but because they are concerned about their health. Listen to disabled people when they tell you something and if you have a hunch they could be lying then reach out to the parents but don’t just assume they are without reason.

Have nutrition as an option- One thing I never understood when I was going to school is why physical fitness was a requirement for everyone and nutrition wasn’t. Eighty percent of how you look and feel comes down to the foods you put in your body so why is personal education more important than nutrition? Some disabled people can’t really do fitness at all so taking a fitness class isn’t really beneficial for them so why can’t the people that don’t benefit have the option to take nutrition instead. Many disabled people struggle with nutrition so why are we forcing them to take a fitness class when they aren’t going to benefit from it. Disabled people that would benefit from a PE class are usually very active and their whole lives revolve around fitness so they don’t really need one and anything you teach them they probably already know so they would learn more from a nutrition class than they would a PE class.. I took a nutrition class as an elective in high school and I learned so much from it that it should have been a graduation requirement instead of PE because it can help so many disabled people who can’t work out and have to focus on nutrition.

Teach them how to stay active-  People often wonder why disabled people who have physical disabilities neglect the gym. It’s simply because it’s really hard and many disabled people don’t want to bother it or don’t know where it start. If schools put more emphasis on teaching disabled students different ways on how to stay active other than just boucing a super light ball then it may teach disabled student that there are ways to stay active. Many disabled give up on fitness because they think they can’t do it and if educators showed them they can maybe more disabled people would try to be more active.

I didn’t learn really learn anything from the PE class I took and everything I know about fitness is from things I learned from Youtube videos and articles I have read on the Internet. I really wish I would have learned something about fitness during my adaptive PE class because it would have taught me ways to stay active and motivated me to start a fitness journey sooner than I did. The adaptive PE program at the school I went to was a total joke but for some schools, there may be a halfway decent program for disabled students so we should not say all these programs are horrible because not all of them are. If they truly all are horrible and need change the only way you will do that as a disabled person to help educators improve their methods in the classroom is to advocate and teach them what they can do better because most people may not see any issues with how they are teaching disabled students. It can be hard to teach a class full of disabled kids of different capabilities when you don’t really know much about disability but it can help when you don’t treat all disability as one because the truth is they can’t all be created equal. Disabled people don’t expect you to be experts on our conditions and all we can really ask from educators is to listen to your students and make as many modifications as you can. How do you think schools can improve adaptive PE for disabled students?

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