Introducing Stop, Start, Consider: Doing Disability-Centred Physical Education & Sport

A feminine-presenting gym teacher high fives a line of students extending their hands while sitting on a bench in a gymnasium. The teacher has long brown hair that is tied back in a ponytail, and is wearing athletic clothing and holding a clipboard. The students are diverse in terms of gender expression and skin tone. Everyone is smiling enthusiastically.

What is Stop, Start, Consider!: Student-Centred Practices in H&PE?

Stop, Start, Consider! is a free downloadable poster series developed to support educators, school staff, and other members of the school community in creating identity-affirming and emotionally safer Health and Physical Education (H&PE) learning environments for every student. When used as a reference during planning and/or displayed in H&PE learning environments, Stop, Start, Consider! posters support school community members in sparking conversations about important equity considerations, shifting away from potentially harmful practices, and promoting inclusive learning environments by demonstrating to every student that they are welcome and valued within H&PE. Students who experience feelings of belonging at school are more likely to achieve their full learning potential.  

Stop, Start, Consider! posters explore themes connected to oppressive systems and specific forms of discrimination that students may be exposed to within H&PE learning environments. In developing this planning support tool, Ophea brought together youth with lived experience, subject-matter experts, and education system-level decision makers to discuss these issues and highlight potential opportunities to foster greater feelings of belonging through inclusive pedagogy.   

In keeping with Ophea’s equity-centred strategy, So Every Student Can Thrive, youth voice is at the forefront of Stop, Start, Consider!: Student-Centred Practices in H&PE. By listening to, learning from and — most importantly — centering those who have experienced marginalization, we can all contribute to a future where every student feels that they belong in their school community, and that their health and well-being is prioritized and supported.   The Stop, Start, Consider!: Student-Centred Practices in H&PE poster series was developed in close partnership with support from additional community partners. This series was made possible with funding support from the Government of Ontario through the Francophone Community Grants Program. The views expressed in this support tool are the views of Ophea and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province. 

Stop, Start, Consider: Doing Disability-Centred Physical Education & Sport

Doing Disability-Centred Physical Education & Sport is the second in the Stop, Start, Consider! poster series. These posters equip educators with strategies to establish inclusive, identity-affirming, and emotionally safer H&PE learning environments for students with disabilities. In explicitly ensuring that we are creating spaces where students with disabilities feel a sense of belonging we support the needs of every single student, with or without disabilities. 

In order to better understand assumptions and potentially oppressive practices in H&PE, we may look to the concept of ableism in society. Ableism is the overarching power structure that dictates our cultural and social understandings of ability, but what does this mean? 

Ableism “may be defined as a belief system, analogous to racism, sexism or ageism, that sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities.”1 

As with other forms of oppression, society often normalizes ableism, which manifests in a wide spectrum of attitudes and behaviours directed towards people with disabilities. Without critical and conscious examination, individuals may contribute unintentionally to ableist ways of thinking. In some cases, ableism shows up in misguided assumptions that undermine the agency and capabilities of people with disabilities. These assumptions can even manifest in ways that might seem like genuine concern for, or a desire to help people with disabilities, such as steering or touching mobility/assistive devices without asking for consent, but too often they are rooted in limiting notions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do. If we are to prevent these cultural attitudes from manifesting in learning environments and impacting students, we must critically examine the existing practices in H&PE and resulting assumptions about the interests, desires, and capacities of students with disabilities.   

Read Ophea’s advocacy position on Re-Imagining Disability in H&PE. 

Youth voices from our Re-Imagining Disability advocacy session highlighted practices in H&PE that are an extension of ableist belief systems, including (but not limited to):

  • Excluding disabled students from crucial physical literacy education instead of offering the appropriate accommodations to enable their full participation;  
  • Failing to prepare modifications or accommodations for activities;  
  • Assuming that disabled students are not interested in participating in Physical Education; and, 
  • Failing to include representation of people with disabilities in health education, including Human Development and Sexual Health. 

Our advocacy session revealed that H&PE learning environments can unintentionally promote harmful stereotypes regarding concepts of ability and disability, largely due to limiting perceptions about the needs, interests, and capabilities of students with disabilities. Practices within H&PE often reflect the assumption that all bodies share the same capabilities and should function in the same way. When the emphasis is placed solely on producing the best possible outcome (speed, distance, strength), rather than on identifying and practicing movements that bring joy and honour the capabilities of every student, students with disabilities are more likely to be marginalized. The assumptions on which our ideas of competition and physical prowess are based position bodies with certain traits and capabilities as superior – this is a harmful idea for all. 

Students with disabilities also reported being actively discouraged or prevented from participating in H&PE settings. Not only does this impede their right to quality education, it risks excluding them from crucial physical and health literacy lessons. This is a disservice; just like their non-disabled peers, students with disabilities are entitled to full participation and inclusion in the activities in which they are interested. Appropriate accommodations that will facilitate this participation can be determined in a collaborative way with students and their caregiver(s). Students with disabilities are entitled to learn about their bodies, and see themselves represented within H&PE curricula.  

Inclusive teaching practices that celebrate a diversity of experiences and abilities within H&PE can help challenge harmful stereotypes rooted in ableism, mitigating participation barriers for students. 

Why now?  

In November 2022, the Canadian Disability Participation Project released their first Disability Report Card, a comprehensive summary of physical activity data for children and adolescents with disabilities in Canada. In the category of “Overall Physical Activity”, a grade of “D” was assigned. There was insufficient data to assign a grade to almost 40% of categories the Report Card sought to assess, including school-based physical activity opportunities2. A different approach to physical activity and H&PE, one that explicitly includes students with disabilities, is long overdue. 

Inclusive H&PE learning environments enable students to meet their full learning potential and explore, learn, and excel without the hindrance of stereotypes or biases.  In addition to supporting feelings of well-being and overall mental health, research consistently indicates that identity-affirming teaching practices positively affect learning outcomes. When students feel a sense of belonging and feel engaged in learning processes that reflect their voice and experiences, their motivation and performance soar.  

The benefits of inclusive, identity-affirming practices extend well beyond the classroom, and can assist in preparing students for the diverse world outside of their school communities. As schools across Ontario move towards inclusive practices that aim to truly support every student, educators can critically examine and, if necessary, adjust their practices to foster learning environments that celebrate all bodies and abilities.

What's next?

Future versions of Stop, Start, Consider!: Student-Centred Practices in H&PE are in development! As we expand this series to address how other oppressive systems might manifest in H&PE learning environments, our hope is to equip educators with tools to foster inclusive, supportive learning environments that expand student access to feelings of belonging and the lifelong benefits of healthy, active living.   


  1. Law Commission of Ontario. (2012). A Framework for the Law as It Affects Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from:…; 
  2. Canadian Disability Participation Project. (2022).Canadian Physical Activity Report Card for Children & Adolescents with Disabilities. Retrieved from: