In 2016, Life Skills Victoria Inc, formerly Moe Life Skills Community Centre Inc in collaboration with Monash University School of Rural Health, developed a Pilot Project, Local Inclusive Fitness for Everyone, better known as the LIFE project.
The LIFE pilot project, with part funding from Bank Australia, aimed to develop an evidence-based physical activity program inclusive of people with all abilities. The project provided an opportunity for people with complex support needs to participate in a physical activity program with other members of their community. The project’s focus was to promote health and wellbeing, social inclusion, and the development of meaningful relationships, as well as challenging the stigma associated with disability.
All potential participants were given information about the project, (including how to provide their consent to be part of the pilot). As a result, the project steering group recruited six participants who had an intellectual disability and complex support needs, and six people from the community to undertake weekly Pilate classes with an accredited instructor. All participants had a strong desire to improve their health and wellbeing through physical activity. The 45-minute classes were followed by an informal morning tea, this provided opportunities to develop social relationships. The project also included the organisation’s Therapy Dog, Kali, who provided additional support to the participants.
Photo Kali in Pilates
Interviews at the conclusion of the pilot phase demonstrated that the project had a positive impact on the lives of the participants, not just in terms of increasing physical exercise, but in developing relationships within the community that were continued outside the project such as catch ups for coffee.
The project also received considerable praise following a presentation in London in 2018.
Evidence from the project identified a need for a better approach to the provision of leisure and recreation activities in the community, for people with high support needs. In light of that information the project steering group developed the next phase of the project.
In December 2017 a planning exercise was completed to ascertain the next steps in the LIFE project, and the LIFE in Action project was developed and received part funding support from Bank Australia. The aim of LIFE in Action was to build and enhance social inclusion and cohesion, while identifying and reducing barriers that prevent a person with an intellectual disability and high support needs full participation in community activities. The project also considered the access needs of this target group, not in terms of physical access, but community access, to recreation and leisure services with other community members and not in “disability groups”.
In May 2019 a series of roundtable discussions with people with high support needs, their families and support persons and recreation and leisure providers were held. These roundtables aimed to identify areas that required ‘change’. Help to build the capacity and acceptance of recreation and leisure groups to include people with intellectual disability who have high support needs, as well as consider how to change the thinking and cultural attitudes of the community to those with disability.
The initial results of the roundtables were collated including direct comments and suggestions from many of the attendees. Many organisations felt their services were already accessible, however, one Rec and Leisure provider stated:
“While physical access is a very valuable, it’s not just about people with disability accessing recreation and leisure facilities, it is about the amount of social interaction that occurs between all people. Physical accessibility versus social accessibility.”
Originally, the next step was to form small working groups (made up of roundtable participants) to develop and implement projects which addressed the themes identified in the roundtable forums. Projects that would build the capacity of recreation and leisure providers, develop attitudinal change, and ensure understanding of available services for people with disability.
Due to COVID -19 restrictions and lockdowns, we were unable to proceed as planned in our research collaboration with Monash University, School of Rural Health, however, we turned our attentions to preparing articles for publication. In brief, the first on the findings of the roundtable discussions. The second is a scoping review that identifies strategies that facilitate inclusive practices in mainstream recreation and leisure providers to increase physical activity for people with intellectual disability who also have high support needs, with others in the community. This will provide valuable information to support the need for opportunities for physical activity to be offered to people with complex intellectual disability needs within and with the mainstream community.
For further information on this project, please contact Dr Carole Broxham (03) 5127 7999
This video was used as part of a presentation of the LIFE research project in London. This partnership continues with Monash University under our new name Life Skills Victoria Inc.