Ifapa - International Federation of Adapted Physical Activity
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APA Philosophy

In contrast to physical therapies, APA is dedicated to the concepts of empowerment and ecological validity.
This means that physical activity of participants is self-driven and targeted towards mastery and excellence.

A good example for the philosophy of self-determination and Participation is provided in the outstanding video below, demonstrating a street context of two breakdancers with disabilities: "Hout VS Lazy Legs".

The following text was prepared by Claudine Sherrill and Yeshayahu Hutzler for the ICSSPE Bulletin
Sport and Adapted Physical Activity: Advocates of Rights and Dignity for All

Since its founding by French-speaking leaders from Canada and Belgium in 1972, the International Federation of Adapted Physical Activity (IFAPA) has perceived itself as a strong advocate for sport for persons of all ages with disabilities. Adapted Physical Activity (APA), which includes sport, physical education, rehabilitation, and recreation, has developed into a profession, a service delivery system, and a rapidly growing body of cross-disciplinary knowledge.  Today, regional organizations function in Asia, Europe, and the USA and are developing in Oceania, South America, and Africa, all of which have elected representatives on the IFAPA Board.  Many countries also have national organizations modeled after IFAPA (e.g., Brazil, Austria, Thailand).  IFAPA is a little known resource to many professionals. It is hoped that this article will encourage interest in joint research projects with other ICSSPE organizations and with various sport organizations.


IFAPA Definition of Adapted Physical Activity (APA)

Definitions are socially constructed, meaning they change over time as beliefs and attitudes change. Different definitions of APE have thus co-existed since the 1950s. Following is the definition currently most often used in international circles.

According to the By-Laws of the International Federation of Adapted Physical Activity (IFAPA), a member of ICSSPE,

Adapted physical activity is a cross disciplinary body of knowledge directed toward the identification and solution of individual differences in physical activity. It is a service-delivery profession and academic field of study that supports an attitude of acceptance of individual differences, advocates access to active lifestyles and sport, and promotes innovation and cooperative service delivery programs and empowerment systems. Adapted physical activity includes, but is not limited to, physical education, sport, recreation, dance and creative arts, nutrition, medicine, and rehabilitation (IFAPA, 2004).

The IFAPA definition includes several key words, including some which are not well understood by many (Hutzler & Sherrill, in press). Cross disciplinary refers to the body of scientific and practical APA knowledge that applies scholarship in such areas as lifespan physical activity, human rights and dignity, and sport sciences to disability, person-environment differences, and contextual variables (i.e., the WHO/ICF components) without regard for traditional disciplinary boundaries. Service delivery (or provision of supports) is the broad term for the job functions generalist and specialist professionals perform in inclusive, partially inclusive, and separate physical activity settings in schools, communities, and rehabilitation centers. Job functions requiring adaptation or change competencies to meet the needs and interests of all include planning (program or individual); assessment; participation, preparation, and paper work related to meetings; teaching, coaching, counseling, and training; evaluation (both formulative and cumulative); consulting; and advocacy. Advocacy, once associated only with law, broadly means action directed toward changing beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors in relation to such causes as accessibility, inclusion, and empowerment. APA’s unique contributions to quality of life are guiding by its goal of combining everything there is to know about disability, physical activity, and variables that interact with each.          Empowerment, reflecting the relatively new trend toward self-determination, choice, and self-regulation as APA goals (Reid, 2003) is emphasized in the IFAPA definition along with service delivery. Empowerment is generally defined as a process through which individuals gain control over their lives, a sense of power equitable with others, and a feeling of responsibility for self, others, and the environment (Sherrill, 2004). In particular, empowerment refers to participating in the governance of any organization pertaining to disability, as captured in the motto “Nothing about us without us” (Charlton, 1998). Rehabilitative sports in medical settings and their outreach programs have long been recognized as influential in empowerment (Daniels, 1954; Guttmann, 1976; Hutzler, 1990; Stafford, 1939). According to Hutzler (1990, p. 49), “The ideology of empowerment can be implemented in different settings of disabled sports, either therapeutic, education, recreational, or competitive.” Inclusion of the word empowerment in the IFAPA definition is thus extremely important.


Omissions in the IFAPA Definition of APA

The IFAPA definition also has omissions. Because it is one of the major pillars on which the profession is founded, concern has been expressed that the concept of lifetime or lifespan does not appear. This concern is especially important in countries that embrace APA personnel preparation for and employment with all age groups in the diverse areas of rehabilitation, recreation, sports, and physical education (DePotter et al., 2003).                       

Second, the IFAPA definition should perhaps also indicate that APA is an umbrella term for job functions of professionals in different settings (e.g., mainstream or inclusive, partially inclusive, and separate). Third, some persons believe that failure to define and include relevant examples of adaptation in sport and movement environments is a grave omission (Hutzler & Sherrill, 2007).  Today adaptation is generally considered to be change strategies directed toward specific variables or interacting variables in the sport or movement environment to enable goal achievement as well as a good feeling about total-self-in-activity.  Contrary to old-time thinking, adaptation is not meant to change the entire nature of an established sport but rather to change one or two variables, as needed.

APA Beliefs Concerning Disability

Adapted Physical Activity (APA) or Adapted Physical Education (APE), as a profession, believes all persons with disability, regardless of severity of condition, should be provided sport, dance, and aquatics experiences throughout their lifespan. These experiences, when appropriate, should be the same as those of others in the mainstream. When, however, a person (with or without a labeled disability) needs help in achieving performance or participation goals, then adaptation (change strategy) is applied to one or more of the variables that may act as barriers to success (e.g., rules, method of instruction, equipment, facilities, size of participating group).

Traditionally, APA has been associated with disability (or individual differences in the psychomotor domain), but this set of beliefs may unconsciously support the

outdated assumption that disability comes from or is in the individual. Today, APA service providers are changing their old mindsets to believe that disability is a dynamic combination (or flow) of person-environment interactions that interfere with performance and participation. In this contemporary definition, environment encompasses all variables interacting with persons of different sizes, shapes, and capacities (e.g., social, psychological, ecological, physical, architectural) in various contexts (e.g., home, school, community, and subcomponents of each). APA, and its school-based component adapted physical education (APE), thus strive to change the ways physical educators and ordinary people think about disability. Fundamental to this goal is acceptance that at least two approaches to defining disability comprise contemporary philosophy.

1.      Disability, the term preferred in most sport organizations, should reflect the language of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF, 2001) of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

2.      Disability, real or perceived, is experienced by everyone, at one time or another, in regard to personal appearance, goal achievement, and/or expectations of others. Disability is multidimensional and dynamic, a combination of human and environmental forces changing on a day by day basis.

The first approach comes from the international medical community, and is primarily for use in diagnosis, classification, treatment, and insurance. The second approach is prominent among persons who dislike labels and subscribe to humanism (i.e., we are all human, we all fail, we all strive for personal bests, and we all need one another). Now that the WHO conceptualizes disability as a conglomerate of person-environment interactions affecting function, the two approaches can be held concurrently. Practice, however, often lags behind theory, position statements of experts, and research evidence.

Major References

Daniels, A. (1954). Adapted physical education. New York: Harper &    


DePotter, J.C., Van Coppenolle, H., Djobova, S., Dobreva, I., Wijns, K., & Van Peteghem, A. (Eds.). (2003). Vocational training in adapted physical activity. Leuven, Belgium: Thematic European Network on Adapted Physical Activity (THENAPA).

Guttmann, L. (1976). Textbook of sport for the handicapped. Aylesbury, England: HM & M.

Hutzler, Y. (1990). The concept of empowerment in rehabilitative sports. In G. Doll-Tepper, C. Dahms, B. Doll, & H.v.Selzam (Eds.). Adapted physical activity: An interdisciplinary approach. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Hutzler, Y., & Sherrill, C. (2007). Defining adapted physical activity: International perspectives. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 24, 1-20.