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Students/Faculty News Stephen Lanzi April 17, 2024

NCHPAD 25th Anniversary Our fellow Research Collaborative center, the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), turned 25 on April 1. As we celebrate a quarter century of NCHPAD, we’re immensely proud of the nationwide impact the center has had promoting the health, wellness and inclusion of people with disabilities into all areas of life.

To commemorate NCHPAD’s silver anniversary, we’re looking back on the center’s two-and-a-half decades of work.

“Inclusion in health promotion and wellness activities is one of the most essential human rights in our society, no different from what curb cuts, ramps and accessible bathrooms did many years ago to allow people with disabilities to leave their homes,” said Dr. Jim Rimmer, NCHPAD and CEDHARS Director. “NCHPAD’s 25 years of work with and for people with disabilities set the bar for our society to become more accessible and inclusive.”

From 1999-2012, NCHPAD was known as the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, NCPAD, based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. NCPAD began with a clear mission: enhancing access to physical activity for individuals with disabilities.

During the first 13 years of existence, NCHPAD focused on what could be considered the most important pathway to optimizing health and function: exercise. First at UIC in Chicago, and then here at the UAB School of Health Professions, where NCHPAD has been located since 2012.

As the center became a leader in promoting physical activity in people with disabilities, the center broadened its emphasis (and moved from Chicago to Birmingham) on health and well-being, and in 2012 the center added an “H” to its name, for health.

“Adding health to our name gave us more tools in our toolbox to assist people with disabilities in improving their personal health and well-being,” Rimmer said. “And moving here to UAB, which includes a strong core of researchers who understand every aspect of physical activity and disability, has been absolutely crucial to our growth as the national leader in promoting the health and wellness of people with disabilities. We really could not practice this type of inclusion science without strong, continual support from UAB.”

During this time, NCHPAD pioneered several initiatives promoting health and wellness among the disability community. From building a 'paperless' Information Center to transitioning toward dynamic online programs, NCHPAD continuously evolved to better serve the community's needs.

Goals during this time were ambitious yet important: Rimmer wanted to improve access to programs, venues and services while increasing participation in beneficial physical activity and nutrition. NCHPAD also worked to promote adherence to healthy behaviors and advocated for policy change and education by bridging research to practice through several unique, innovative approaches.

Two significant milestones during that time stand out: the launch of "NCHPAD 14 Weeks to a Healthier You," a revolutionary online program offering personalized resources for physical activity and nutrition to individuals of all abilities and health aspirations, and collaboration with the American College of Sports Medicine to introduce the Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer training program.

“The past 25 years have allowed NCHPAD to make a positive impact on inclusion and disability in the education space,” said Penny Edwards, NCHPAD Program Manager. “We have impacted administrators, future leaders, university professors, classroom teachers, health educators, physical educators and the list goes on in the education space, reaching well over one million students.”

In 2013, NCHPAD launched its YouTube channel, which is its largest resource hub, with over 30,000 subscribers – reaching millions each year.

"Throughout the years of NCHPAD, we've interviewed hundreds of people with disabilities. It's a huge privilege to be trusted with that access, learn about their needs, platform their stories and foster change,” said Matt Henton, NCHPAD Video Production Manager. “We get to work directly with these individuals to create resources that can help millions of people. We’re uniquely poised and honored to slowly fill the disability health and wellness content vacuum, one video at a time.” 

In the beginning days, the focus was on creating concise exercise videos that catered to individuals with physical disabilities, to promote health. As time passed, the team broadened its content to include information on adapted sports, community inclusion guides, cooking demonstrations, disability education and material tailored for teenagers and children. This expansion reflected (and continues to reflect) the center’s commitment to serving people of all ages and backgrounds, promoting health and advancing inclusion.

Some of the video highlights include the “How-To” series featuring Paralympian Mary Allison Cook, offering practical tips and tricks for navigating life as a wheelchair user, and The Awesome Mary Show with Mary White, focused on spreading positivity and advocating for equal treatment for people with disabilities. During COVID-19 lockdowns, NCHPAD’s nationally recognized home workout video playlist, which provided expert advice for older adults, was featured in “The New York Times.”

“Over the years, we have heard from people all over the world, and they say it is so valuable because we are not only sharing evidence-based strategies with field-tested exercises but that the videos also involve individuals with autism,” said Dave Geslak, Exercise Connection President and Founder, on the NCHPAD autism video series.

Lately, the video team has focused on content for the growing roster of health promotion programs, including videos on mindfulness, meditation and healthy, delicious recipes.

In late 2022, the center launched NCHPAD Connect, revolutionizing how NCHPAD connects individuals with disabilities to health promotion programs and personalized resources. NCHPAD Connect is the online portal housing a growing community of classes, resources and health promotion programs for people with disability.

NCHPAD Connect tackles health disparities head-on by providing comprehensive programs and resources specifically designed to support the health and wellness of people with disabilities and help prevent secondary conditions.

Each program focuses on holistic health and wellness, from diet and nutrition to evidence-based mindfulness and meditation, exercise and more. Each year, there are new programs available through NCHPAD Connect, specially tailored to individual participant needs, goals and feedback.

“We see NCHPAD as a ‘disruptor’ in health and wellness,” Rimmer said. “We provide connection to every single area of health, from physical and mental health to emotional or spiritual health, which has been often neglected.”

Central to NCHPAD’s success has been collaboration with national healthcare partners, facilitating patient involvement and educating healthcare providers on the importance and impact of inclusive wellness initiatives.

“Our healthcare partners are vital to our success in reaching thousands of additional people across the country,” said Tracy F. Tracy, NCHPAD Healthcare Inclusion Specialist. “We empower each provider with expert training and disability education that helps reduce medical ableism while increasing empathy and access to care. This gives often overlooked or marginalized populations access to programs and resources that make a huge difference in overall health and wellness.”

The collaborative approach is deeply rooted in the belief that strategic partnerships are vital for the development and sustainability of community health inclusion.

With over 60 national partners on board, including respected names like Ochsner Health, Craig Hospital, Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center, Health Choice Network, Methodist Rehabilitation, Alabama Department of Public Health, Motus Nova, OhioHealth and Cerebral Palsy Research Network, among others, NCHPAD is making a wide-ranging impact together.

The next 25 years will be built on the era of “digital transformation.” Intelligent digital services get better the more they are used – the more users, the more impact on their health and wellness because content becomes personalized, making NCHPAD much more relevant to the interests and needs of consumers.

“I would like to end with a tribute to all the NCHPAD staff who joined us from 1999 to the present,” Rimmer said. “It’s been a joyful 25 years meeting all of these wonderful and dedicated staff and watching them grow into careers that are addressing a tremendous need in our society – inclusion and acceptance.”

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