Research Q&A with Brynn Adamson: Disability awareness training

Brynn Adamson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Health Sciences

1. How would you describe the main idea or main takeaway from your most recent research or creative work to someone outside your field?

In this project, my team developed an inclusivity training focused on disability for exercise instructors that work at community-based recreation facilities. The key takeaway is that group exercise instructors do not currently receive very much or any training about disability even though they are likely to have someone with a disability in their group exercise classes. We pilot tested the Disability Awareness Training and Education program and observed positive changes in disability attitudes and confidence to create accessible classes.

2. What is the key paper or author/performer who has most inspired your recent research/creative work?

Mia Mingus is a disability rights activist who focuses a lot on the concept of access intimacy – or building relationships where a person with a disability feels that their access needs are respected, anticipated and firmly front and center. Her work inspires a great deal of my research and my efforts to ensure that movement practices, like exercising in groups, are accessible and inclusive. Her work can be found here.

3. How do you see this research/creative piece contributing to new insights in the field/sparking conversation?

Part of the impact we hope to make in this field is drawing attention to the need for integrated exercise and physical activity opportunities where people with and without disabilities are exercising and moving together side by side. Thus far, the only formalized training similar to ours is for personal trainers with a strong emphasis on the health benefits of exercise. While this is important, it is absolutely vital to address the lack of accessibility and inclusivity of exercise spaces and opportunities. By turning the focus on social, structural, and interpersonal factors impacting exercise opportunities, we hope that more centers (research centers and community exercise centers) start to really evaluate their practices and whether they are creating a culture of belonging across sociodemographic categories including disability.

4. Can you describe the contributions of co-authors or collaborators who were essential to the success of this project?    

I have the most phenomenal team! This project grew out of a collaboration with colleagues from the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but has grown substantially! Our team includes researchers from Kinesiology, Community Health, Recreation, Sport & Tourism, Communications, and who have background in physical therapy, health communications, and rehabilitation counseling. We have had undergraduate, MS and PhD students in all of these fields and more.

Most importantly, my team includes community members living with disabilities, and community-based recreation center partners. For the last three and a half years, at least 20 different individuals have been a part of the creation of the Inclusive Community Exercise Training. This has been the most interdisciplinary team I have ever worked on and also the most successful. I have been shocked by the number of times I have faced a problem in this line of research only to bring on a new team member with the exact expertise we were lacking. I also can’t forget the media services team at UIUC who filmed and edited all of our videos and helped us to host the training.

5. What impact do you hope this work makes?

Our goal is to provide this training – now the Inclusive Community Exercise Training – free of charge and for continuing education units among group exercise instructors nationwide. Staff and instructor knowledge about disability is one of the key barriers to community exercise reported by community members living with disability. By providing free inclusivity training, we hope to see more community members with disabilities participating in community exercise, working in community-based recreation facilities, and leading the way in community conversations about active living.

6. What is on deck for you as you get started on your next project?

We have just completed an overhaul on the training based on two rounds of pilot testing. We will be collecting data for the next six to eight months among instructors who complete the training. We are also actively seeking NIH funding to expand the evaluation of this training prior to offering via continuing education on group exercise platforms such as the American Council on Exercise and the National Recreation and Parks Association.

7. Where and when do you feel you are the most productive/creative/inspired?

I am a firm believer in the 14-day writing challenge from the NCFDD. Creating a daily writing practice has been hugely beneficial for me! Also, I am very conscientious about the phrasing of my to do list for my scholarship goals. When I have micro-goals such as “draft limitations section,” I get so much more done than if my to do list says “Work on X paper.”

You can read the paper here.