In partnership with YMCA, YWCA, WWDACT, and the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network, WCHM supported the Well, Able and Mobile (WAM) program, where women with disabilities (including women with mental health issues) were being supported to take part in fitness activities of their choice. The long term vision was for women with disabilities to be able to take part in a wide range of fitness activities in the community, and as a result have improved physical, mental, and social health outcomes.
WAM was initially started as a pilot project called Well and Able in 2006. In its various iterations, it constantly evolved, using the learning outcomes of ongoing and biannual evaluations to adjust in response to the needs of the participants and to the project vision. The final program (WAM II) started in June 2009, and WCHM was responsible for conducting mid course and end of year evaluations, preparing submissions for funding, and participating in the Advocacy/ Steering Committee.
WAM II achieved real changes for the group of women who participated consistently in the program. It demonstrated the fact that any behaviour change requires time to become sustainable. The women who attended WAM for at least a year showed the most self reported progress including in areas such as weight loss, mobility and muscle strength. They also showed the most development in psychosocial aspects and developed the confidence to mentor other women who have not been in WAM as long. But the barriers to their willingness and capacity to access other facilities and gyms which were identified by the women remained the same—the perception of unfriendly and judgmental attitudes by staff in mainstream gyms, lack of suitable equipment in gyms and the lack of suitable groups or programs at their level in mainstream gyms. Transport and taxis, including wheelchair accessible taxis, remained a barrier, not just about cost but also about availability and access in the ACT for women with disabilities.
WCHM supported an application for additional funding for WAM for 2010-11 under the Health promotion Grants but the application was not successful.
Nevertheless, the WAM project did result in the development of a successful model which combines fitness, social aspects and physiotherapy support in classes which can be used to inform the creation of such programs and initiatives in the future.
The key findings were:
- Adaptive alternative forms of fitness activities are needed—mainstream gyms and facilities may not offer a ready solution to fitness options for women with disabilities.
- Psychosocial benefits can overcome other barriers to participation—WAM II, as well as studies of some international projects which follow similar models, indicate that women often exhibit enough resilience and commitment to overcome transport and architectural barriers when they find other outcomes such as social connectedness and well being.
- The main barrier to women accessing mainstream gym facilities was the perception of negativity in the attitudes of staff and other users at those gyms—if exercise facilities are to be truly accessible, attitudinal barriers must be eliminated by providing staff members with training on how to accommodate all abilities during both group and individual exercise programs.
- Transport is an ongoing issue for women with disabilities, particularly in Canberra where distances are great and minimizing the transport logistics and costs is essential.