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This theme explores how students, faculty and staff are change agents: disrupting the status quo and contributing to an evolving understanding of our world.

By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Many people take for granted their ability to work out, participate in recreation or attend an event.

For some individuals it’s not that easy. How do we ensure everyone has fair access to participate in physical activity, which is crucial for lifelong health and wellness?

Wider lens

This is an important question for Dr. David Yi, an assistant professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, who approaches his work with a wide lens.

In addition to persons with disabilities, who have historically been the focus of work to improve physical activity inclusion, Dr. Yi is also interested in improving inclusion for Indigenous Peoples and newcomers to Canada.

“Given the premise that inclusiveness aims to establish equity, access, and social inclusion for everyone, and considering the growing diversity of Canadian society, I take a broadened perspective to my work,” he explained.

“I work with diverse underprivileged population groups rather than merely working with persons experiencing disabilities.”

Inclusion for newcomers

An immigrant himself, Dr. Yi moved to Canada to attend graduate school.

He says he experienced first-hand the social and cultural complexities that influence inclusion in physical activity for newcomers.

This perspective is reflected in his work as he explores how social- and cultural-responsibility and relationships play key roles to a person’s inclusion in active lifestyles.

“Listening and re-telling”

Dr. Yi says there are a number of examples of good community intentions to improve inclusion. However, little is known about the complexities of ensuring inclusiveness in the context of physical activity, health and wellness for all.

“Quite often we know we should be inclusive, but in reality we don’t know how to do that effectively,” explained Dr. Yi.

“I am interested in listening to the community and re-telling their stories so we can begin to do things better, including programming, policies, facilities, and resources.”

“Quite often we know we should be inclusive, but in reality we don’t know how to do that effectively.” — Dr. David Yi

Dr. Yi has identified themes that are contributors to exclusion, including a lack of resources like built environments, transportation systems and policies, and socio-cultural influences, including a lack of advocacy, negative societal attitudes and the absence of individual and societal readiness.

These forms of social injustice in physical activity opportunities can be responsible for negative health outcomes among the population groups of his focus.

Dr. Yi is committed to involving people in his community-based participatory research to ensure more voices are heard. As a narrative inquirer, his research captures individuals’ stories through interviews and storytelling to help identify gaps in programming and in community collaborations.

Collaboration in research

By engaging potentially vulnerable individuals, service providers and researchers, Dr. Yi’s work is strengthening the culture of collaborative and participatory research in inclusion.

It also benefits Dr. Yi’s adapted physical activity students. The research project is creating experiential, service-learning opportunities, connecting the students’ coursework focused on accessible programming to community-based service programming.

Besides sharing their time and talents with organizations such as Easter Seals N.L., Special Olympics and NL-VISRA (visually impaired sport and recreation association), students gain perspective and experience that they bring back to the classroom regarding individuals’ and organizations’ needs, challenges and successes.

Dr. Yi says the arrangement functions as a knowledge exchange, as well: the Association for New Canadians, Autism Society of N.L., the provincial Disability Policy Office, Native Friendship Centre, Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, and Parasport N.L. are all “community educators” for the course.

“They teach as guest lecturers or instructors for experiential learning sessions. The students are then ready to go out for their community service.”

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