New app helps kids with disabilities stay active

New app helps kids with disabilities stay active

I take children being active very personally.

I’m a pediatrician-in-training and adapted physical activity advocate, and I’ve met many wonderful children over my years of training and volunteering. I have observed the many benefits to children as a result of their being active and engaged in their communities.

Being physically active is an important component of a healthy childhood. It leads to improved physical and mental health, better focus at school leading to better academic performance, and more positive social connections resulting in friendships and community building.

Contact Dr. Sarah McEachern

If you would like more information about:

  • adapted physical activity
  • events in Calgary
  • the Jooay app

Contact Sarah

Also, the more active children are in childhood, the more likely they are to continue being active into adulthood, which translates into a healthier Canadian population. This reinforces the need for regular physical activity for all Canadian children.

Unfortunately, the average Canadian child is not participating in a sufficient amount of physical activity as defined by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day, seven days a week.

Children with disabilities have an even more difficult time meeting physical activity guidelines, and often have higher rates of inactivity and obesity than their peers.

Disabled children have unique challenges

For parents of children with disabilities, one of the primary challenges is finding activities their children enjoy that are adapted and/or inclusive. This was reinforced for me last spring when I was approached by the mother of a child I had worked with in Calgary. She told me how difficult it had been for them to find suitable physical activity programs for her son, who is a teen who uses a wheelchair. He had previously been involved in a regular physical activity program he enjoyed but he had aged out of the program as he moved into adolescence.

It was through this experience and the help of an Alberta Medical Association Health Promotion Grant that I was fortunate to be able to partner with Jooay, a free Canadian app that uses local resources and crowdsourcing to build a strong database of programs and facilities that are accessible for individuals with disabilities.

Connecting disabled Canadians with local programs

The Jooay app was developed in Montreal in 2015 after a group of Canada-wide stakeholders met with the intention of developing practical strategies to get children with disabilities more active. One of the primary concerns was exactly what I had discovered through my own experiences: it’s difficult for parents to find local resources for programs and facilities that are adapted, accessible, and inclusive for their children to participate in.

The Jooay app is now available in many cities across Canada. In addition to physical activity programs and facilities, it also contains information for arts programs and summer camps for children with disabilities.

In Calgary, I have been working to educate families about the importance of physical activity, as well as to promote the app to families, local organizations and facilities, and physicians and other healthcare providers. The goal is to have all organizations and facilities that work with children with disabilities available on the app, with updated contact and program information, and to have parents aware of this resource to help get their children more involved in their community.

Programs can upload their information into the app, and parents can download the app and “favourite” and review programs in their area based on proximity to their current location. Ultimately, the more programs, individuals with disabilities, and parents who use the app, the more useful it is to all involved.

All children deserve the chance to have a happy, healthy childhood, and physical activity is an essential part of that. By having children with disabilities become more active, it is my hope that siblings, parents, caregivers, and friends will become more active and more involved in their community, and that this will lead to a happier and healthier Calgary, and eventually a happier and healthier Canada. Lofty goals perhaps, but an essential one for the health of our great country.

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