ACCEss-SCI: Adapting community centres to enhance exercise in spinal cord injury


  • Tania Lam
    University of British Columbia
  • Ross MacDonald
    City of Surrey
  • Jaine Priest 
    City of Vancouver


  • Alison Williams
    University of British Columbia
  • Sharon Jang
    University of British Columbia

There is overwhelming evidence that regular physical activity is critical for reducing secondary health complications and improving quality of life for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). However, individuals with SCI face many barriers to exercising; the most common is accessing appropriate fitness facilities and fitness professionals with specialized knowledge in adaptive physical activity.

Since 2013, the Physical Activity Research Centre (PARC) at the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) has provided adaptive physical activity opportunities to over 300 individuals with SCI. PARC previously created professional development workshops about physical activity for individuals with SCI. These workshops were conducted for UBC students, SCI peers, and local community fitness leaders; they were well received and there is interest for more continuing education programming. Research was also conducted to show the feasibility, acceptance, and health benefits of adaptive group exercises programs such as arm “spin” classes, circuit training, and boxercise. The goal is to extend these initiatives to local settings.

The City of Surrey Parks, Recreation, and Culture department (CoS) and the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation (VPB) share a common vision with PARC — to make physical activity opportunities across the Lower Mainland universal and accessible to all. Both VPB and CoS have identified multiple community centres to expand adaptive physical activity programming, but need support to train fitness staff to advance this programming. This Reach award will facilitate the translation of PARC-created adaptive fitness programs to VPB and CoS community centres. PARC will support this translation by providing on-site training to community fitness leaders, professional development workshops, staff in-services, and an adaptive physical activity mentorship program. The benefits of these translational initiatives will be measured by the success in changing attitudes about physical disability and perceived barriers to implementing adaptive programs among community programmers and fitness instructors, and successful implementation of inclusive and integrated fitness class programs in VPB and CoS community centers.