DOVP Week: LaWanda Cook and David Filiberto on Lessons Learned from Evaluating Inclusive Fitness and Wellness Programs

We are LaWanda Cook and David Filiberto, research faculty at the Yang-Tan Institute (YTI) on Employment and Disability. One of the YTI’s Healthy Living initiatives, “Fits In: An Inclusive Fitness and Wellness Technical Assistance and Evaluation Program” is being undertaken to ascertain the effectiveness of enhanced training of fitness professionals to improve the inclusion of persons with disabilities in community settings alongside of peers without disabilities. Our goal is to identify strategies that will enable fitness professionals and individuals with disabilities to sustain these efforts.

Lessons Learned:

Project managers, community partners, people with disabilities, and their family members need a mutual understanding of the definition of “inclusive” versus “adaptive” programming, prior to finalizing the program design.

Individuals with disabilities can benefit from education about and exposure to fitness/wellness options, with opportunities to try these activities in different settings. We recognize that for some individuals, movement toward inclusion may happen in stages from first being introduced to a fitness program with peers with disabilities to ultimately participating in a “typical” community-based program. Some individuals may prefer and choose to participate in more, or less, inclusive settings. The key is to provide choices.

Fitness professionals would benefit from an understanding of common types of disabilities/functional limitations, hands-on experience working with people with disabilities, and guidance on how to talk with individuals with disabilities to mutually decide if they should work together.

Hot Tips:

  1. Effective programming requires program staff to consider the needs of all stakeholders. They must be skilled not only in serving individuals with disabilities, but in educating subject matter experts and the general public about disability and inclusion. Mutually beneficial community partnerships, and thoughtfully designed opportunities such as Pop Up events, and adaptive classes or workshops can be impactful first steps to more inclusive community-based opportunities.
  2. When assisting in the creation of sustainable inclusive programs for individuals with disabilities, it is important to remember that program personnel and participants may not be well versed, or even familiar with, the methods and purpose of quality evaluation. Even after creating an evaluation that is simple and straightforward, provide the necessary technical assistance and fidelity monitoring to assist in the thorough and accurate collection of data.

Rad Resources:

  1. For tips on designing and evaluating physically, programmatically, and attitudinally inclusive recreation programs, see the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) website at
  1. As we help create avenues for individuals with disabilities to participate in inclusive, community-based fitness/wellness activities we encourage you to learn more and follow our project here:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations TIG (DOVP) Week. The contributions all week come from DOVP members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “DOVP Week: LaWanda Cook and David Filiberto on Lessons Learned from Evaluating Inclusive Fitness and Wellness Programs”

  1. Thanks for your article Sheila,

    In my work, I teach students to participate in and administer fitness evaluations. There is certainly a spectrum of the population, ranging from very fit to de-conditioned. Amongst my group include those with some sort of physical or mental disability. In my experience, it is easier to include these individuals in a fitness class, since the skill sets within the group are already so varied. However, special training is certainly required to effectively provide an adequate fitness stimulus to this group.
    At the college level, health and fitness students are often taught exercise programs and routines that are designed for high-level athletes. However, more often the population being worked with are deconditioned or have some sort movement restriction. Therefore, it is important that fitness professionals (and those learning to be fitness professionals), are taught to include all types of clients, including being able to adapt and customize the program for each population.
    While an inclusive AND adaptive environment is the desired solution, it requires increased training and experience of the fitness professionals. Currently, this market is undervalued, which leads to lower paid, less trained evaluators. However, with the societal shift of increased personal health and wellness, hopefully we will demand more out of our fitness professionals.

  2. Dear Sheila Robinson,

    Thank you for taking the time and posting this article. I am currently a teacher and my specialty is physical education. Last year, I was a Special Education Teacher and I am happy that you have included this group in your post. In my teaching, I have noticed the great benefit from inclusive practices both inside the classroom and the gym. With regards to students with special needs, I noticed that certain students may not be able to participate in certain physical activities. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to see your peers completing an activity and you cannot complete the same task. I work very hard to ensure that my lessons, inside the gym and classroom, are inclusive for all students. Articles like this are amazing at reminding me to keep learning about how best to support students with special needs. Every person needs physical activity to improve their wellness and special education students are no exception. In my experience, sometimes just modifying the rules (or the rules for certain students) of a game or activity, creates a space where all students are included.
    Thank you for this wonderful post,

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