Inclusion means creating meaningful learning opportunities within supportive school environments where all students feel physically and emotionally safe and have a sense of belonging. Prioritizing physical and emotional safety in Health and Physical Education is a fundamental principle and necessary for meaningful learning for all students, including students with disabilities.  

“Physical and emotional safety is a precondition for effective learning in health and physical education. Students learn best in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe. In health and physical education, students are learning new skills and participating in a physical environment where there is inherent risk. They are learning in a public space where others can see them explore, learn, succeed, and make mistakes.”1 

Inclusion is a process and a goal; it is an ever-lasting search for better ways to respond to diversity. The purpose of the Disability-Centred Movement: Supporting Inclusive Physical Education resource is to provide a collection of capacity-building tools that enable educators to embed universal design into their practice and to plan their programming to meet students’ individualized needs. 

This resource is a tool to help educators enhance their physical activity programs while developing an inclusive lens through education and understanding of disability. It will serve as a supplement to a welcoming and supportive environment created with positive teaching practices in mind. Each student enters the classroom with a unique set of skills and needs; this resource may be used as a guide, recognizing that any recommended strategies and ideas may need to be adapted, enhanced, or changed completely, to meet the individual needs of the student. 

Language Matters 

Identity-First Language and Person-First Language  

The choices made about language have an impact on the way people with disabilities feel and are perceived in society. As educators, it is important to validate students’ identities to help them feel valued about who they are, and to be seen and addressed exactly the way they want. It is important to always be aware of the meaning behind the words that are used when talking to, referring to, or working with people with disabilities.  

There are many terms that exist about disabilities, including Identity-First Language and Person-First Language. These guidelines can help educators ensure that students feel safe and included within the teaching and learning environment: 

  • Talk to the student about their preferences for how they want to be identified (e.g., consult with the student privately and ask them how they would like to be identified).  
  • Ensure the learning environment is a welcoming space for all students to engage in respectful and inclusive conversations where they feel comfortable sharing if they choose to (e.g., consult with the student about their needs and about choosing strategies that will help them feel comfortable and included). 
  • Model appropriate language and embed examples of diversity into your teaching (e.g., when teaching net and wall games, showcase pictures of people playing volleyball, sitting volleyball, tennis, and/or wheelchair tennis). 
  • Teach your students about how a person’s actions, language and words can contribute to someone feeling included and respected, and empower students to choose their actions with others in mind (e.g., teach positive ways to engage in conversations about disability, and when in doubt, the best practice is to ask the person directly). 
  • Consider that language evolves and changes over time. It is an educator’s responsibility to be cognizant of appropriate language as it evolves and be attuned to the diversity that students bring into our classrooms.  

Identity-First Language 

Identity-first language emphasizes that the disability is part of who the person is and reinforces disability as a positive identifier. When an individual chooses to refer to themselves using identity-first language, they are asserting their pride in being disabled and acknowledging the importance of their disability in representing who they are as a person. Examples of using identity-first language include: 

  • Asha identifies as a deaf person, and enjoys participating in tag games.  
  • When playing goal ball, a blind person relies on the ball which has noise bells which help orient them on the court.  
  • Mari is autistic and enjoys participating in activities that require jumping.  

Person-First Language 

Person-first language emphasizes the recognition of the person first, before the disability. It prioritizes the person versus their disability. The disability is only one part of a person's identity and does not define who they are. Examples of using person-first language include: 

  • Farah is a student who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker in physical education.  
  • Some people who have autism use an augmentative communication device to talk to their peers.  
  • Vasi is a person who has Down syndrome and enjoys participating in community events, such as food drives. 

1 Ontario Ministry of Education (2019). The Ontario Curriculum, Grade 1-8 Health and Physical Education. P. 9. Retrieved from: https://www.dcp.edu.gov.on.ca/en/curriculum/elementary-health-and-physical-education/context/the-importance-of-the-health-and-physical-education-curriculum