Language and Definitions

Helping your organization use consistent language and definitions around the needs of children and youth with disabilities.

A family uses a laptop on the couch

Image: Parents and their child with Down Syndrome are on the family laptop. They sit together on their living room couch.

It is recommended that organizations provide families of children and youth with disabilities with clear and consistent definitions of terms such as physical activity, adapted, accessible, integrated, and inclusive.

Why is this information important? Families of children and youth with disabilities need clarity regarding various physical activity terms and definitions. Using clear and consistent language and definitions when describing your physical activity and sport programming can help families of children and youth with disabilities find the information they need.

Below you will find some common definitions around physical activity and disability-specific terms. These are NOT the ONLY definitions that can be used. If your organization uses different language, that is ok! Just be sure that you are clear and consistent when using these terms so that families can find the information they need!  

Click each term to skip to that section and learn more: Inclusive, Adapted, Accessible, Integrated, Physical Activity. Download our accessible PDF version! Link re-directs to a preview (new tab) to download from.

Language and Definitions (PDF)

Disability-Related Terminology

Inclusive Physical Activity

Inclusion. Diagram of blue and orange circles inside an outer ring.

Refers to sport, play, exercise, or physical activity programs, that provide the same opportunity for children and youths with and without disabilities to participate in the same activity.

Aspects of Inclusive Physical Activity Programs

Examples of Inclusive Physical Activity Programs

Adapted Physical Activity

Refers to sport, play, exercise or physical activity programs that have been adapted or modified to allow for full participation by children and youth with particular disabilities.

Aspects of Adapted Physical Activity Programs

Examples of Adapted Physical Activity Programs

Accessible Physical Activity

Refers to information, products, services, and spaces that have the flexibility to accommodate the needs and preferences of each child and youth regarding physical activity.

Aspects of Accessible Physical Activity Programs

Examples of Accessible Physical Activity Programs

Integrated Physical Activity

Integrated. Diagram of blue circles in an inner ring, apart from orange circles, all inside an outer ring.

Refers to sport, play, exercise or physical activity settings where children and youth are brought into a program that has been designed for those without disabilities. There may be extra support for children and youth with disabilities.

In integrated settings, the activity was designed for children and youth without disabilities, unlike inclusive physical activity programs that are designed to provide the same opportunity for children and youth with and without disabilities to participate.

Physical Activity Terminology

Physical Activity

Refers to any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure and increases heart rate and breathing.

  • Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (2021). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines: Glossary of terms.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Youth (5-17 Years Old)

Physical activity guidelines generally recommend that children and youth get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. This can include a variety of intensities and activities.

Types of Physical Activity

Refers to activity that occurs spontaneously, sporadically, is often unplanned or unscheduled, and involve self-directed games, play and other activities without external structures such as coaches or time clocks. Examples:

  • Moving around school or classroom.
  • Helping with meal preparation.
  • Cleaning up toys.
  • Shopping with family members.

Refers to activity that is accumulated by carrying out activities of daily living. It is often considered a form of light physical activity. Examples:

  • Playing ball with the dog.
  • Soccer game with friends.
  • Recreational swimming.
  • Family hike.
  • Walking or wheeling to school.
  • Building a fort.
  • Playing catch or tag.

Refers to activity that occurs in a planned, deliberate, and repetitive context. Examples:

  • School physical education class.
  • Organized lessons such as dance, swimming, karate.
  • Competitive or organized recreational sport such as soccer, goalball, hockey, gymnastics.

Physical Activity Intensities

How much effort goes into doing the activity? Types of Movement. Different movements fall under different categories depending on how hard your child or youth has to work to do the activity. Everybody is different, so the same activity might fall in different categories for different children or youth.

Requires a small amount of effort and does not usually make your child or youth feel out of breath. A child or youth does not need to move the lower half of their body to perform these activities. Movement of any body part(s) can count as light physical activity. Examples of light physical activity:

  • Cleaning up toys.
  • Playing with pets.
  • Slow walking or wheeling.
  • Stretching.
  • Bocce.

Requires physical effort, and makes your child or teen feel more tired and breathe harder than usual. A child or youth may or may not physically sweat while doing these activities. Example moderate to vigorous activities:

  • Brisk walking or wheeling to school.
  • Dancing.
  • Swimming.
  • Games in physical education class.
  • Recreational sports.

Overall Evidence Base References

Bailey, R., & Sweeney, R. (2022). Principles and strategies of inclusive physical activity: a European Delphi study. Journal of Public Health, 1–8.

Bassett-Gunter, R. L., Ruscitti, R. J., Latimer-Cheung, A. E., & Fraser-Thomas, J. L. (2017). Targeted physical activity messages for parents of children with disabilities: A qualitative investigation of parents’ informational needs and preferences. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 64, 37–46.

Dozier, S. G. H., Schroeder, K., Lee, J., Fulkerson, J. A., & Kubik, M. Y. (2020). The association between parents and children meeting physical activity guidelines. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 52, 70–75.

Faulkner, G., White, L., Riazi, N., Latimer-Cheung, A. E., & Tremblay, M. S. (2016). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth: Exploring the perceptions of stakeholders regarding their acceptability, barriers to uptake, and dissemination. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(6), S303-S310.

Jaarsma, E. A., Haslett, D., & Smith, B. (2019). Improving communication of information about physical activity opportunities for people with disabilities. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 36(2), 185-201.

Jetha, A., Faulkner, G., Gorczynski, P., Arbour-Nicitopoulos, K., & Martin Ginis, K. A. (2011). Physical activity and individuals with spinal cord injury: Accuracy and quality of information on the Internet. Disability and Health Journal, 4(2), 112–120.

Longmuir, P. E. (2003). Creating inclusive physical activity opportunities: An abilities-based approach. In R. D. Steadward, G. D. Wheeler, & E. J. Watkinson (Eds.), Adapted Physical Activity (pp. 255-284). University of Alberta Press.

Natkunam, T., Tristani, L., Peers, D., Fraser‐Thomas, J., Latimer‐Cheung, A. E., & Bassett‐Gunter, R. (2020). Using a think‐aloud methodology to understand online physical activity information search experiences and preferences of parents of children and youth with disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 33(6), 1478-1488.