Mobility Limitations

Why Physical Activity is Important to People with Mobility Limitations

An active lifestyle can greatly assist a person with a mobility limitation to manage and in some cases, even lessen the negative impacts associated with their condition. Regardless of their physical ability or degree of health, a person with a mobility limitation can benefit a great deal from regular physical activity. Even if an individual has difficulty with standing or walking, they can benefit through exercise. These individuals have more to lose from being sedentary.

The benefits that an individual with a mobility limitation can gain from physical activity will largely depend on their starting point, and the degree of effort which they are willing to put into an exercise program.

Each and every individual should have the opportunity to get actively involved in community programs, fitness and health initiatives. The role of physical activity providers in creating a welcoming and safe environment to accommodate a person with a mobility limitation cannot be understated.

Physical Activity Tips and Modifications for People with Mobility Limitations

The choice of physical activity should be matched with the individual’s interests, needs and their abilities. The individual will move and participate in their own way. The types of equipment which may assist a person with a mobility limitation to participate in physical activity include a manual, sport or power wheelchair, a cane, crutches, walker, brace, orthotics, or prosthetics.

Teaching and Communication Techniques for Physical Activity Leaders

  • Create a welcoming environment – customer service focus;
  • Ask the individual what their needs and interests are – never assume;
  • Reminder: privacy/disclosure policies ensure individuals share information at their discretion and comfort;
  • Ask the individual to consult a medical practitioner prior to involvement;
  • As with every individual, other considerations should be discussed (i.e. pain, fatigue and the individual’s expectations).
  • Focus on what the individual can do rather than what they cannot;
  • Think safety first;
  • Be patient and supportive;
  • Offer assistance and support as required or when asked;
  • Consult with resource agencies with expertise in areas of inclusive physical activity – training or professional development materials may be beneficial;
  • Ensure staff and volunteers receive adequate training to be able to deliver quality customer service, gain equipment knowledge/use and learn about available resources – on/off-site
  • Allocate additional staff or volunteers to the area where the participant will be taking part in an activity, where possible;
  • Reminder – do not touch an individual or their assistive device or service animal without their consent;
  • When leading activities outdoors, ensure participants wear sun screen, protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat because certain medications may make a person more susceptible to sun burn;
  • Provide a facility without barriers to participation, thus creating access to the venue, equipment or activity (this could include: accessible parking spaces, ramp access or flat access to the front door, remove obstacles in hallways – signage, garbage/recycling bins, automatic or wide frame doorways to enter/ exit);
  • Post equipment safety and usage information with large print written text and diagrams;
  • Avoid slippery surfaces and raised obstructions;
  • Create space for easy movement and participation.

Modifying Leisure, Sport and Recreation Activities

  • Match the individual with activities which meet their needs and abilities. Some individuals may be able to swim a mile or engage in a vigorous aerobics class, while for others, a slow walk may be enough;
  • Make it fun – having fun and socializing are important benefits to physical activity experienced by people who are active;
  • Make it interesting – exercise and every day activities, such as gardening or walking a dog, can easily go together;
  • Develop activities which meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults with mild to moderate MS, which prescribe 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity twice per week, and strength training for major muscle groups two times weekly;
  • If available, provide adapted equipment.

More About Mobility Limitations

What is a Mobility Limitation?

Mobility is defined in the dictionary as:

“The quality or state of being mobile, the movement of people, as from one social group, class or level to another. The means of approaching, entering, exiting, communicating with or making use of.”

A mobility limitation can be defined as a disabling condition which requires an adaptation. A person who has a mobility limitation may use adaptive devices, or mobility aids such as canes, crutches, wheelchairs or artificial limbs.

In the context of disability, an individual’s mobility could be affected as a result of any of, or a combination of the following, which may be congenital or traumatic, short term, progressive or permanent:

Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI); Paraplegia; Quadriplegia; Tetraplegia; Hemiplegia; Paralysis; Muscle weakness, injury, strain, sprain or brake; Rheumatoid arthritis; Cerebral Palsy; Muscular Dystrophy; Stroke; Acquired Brain Injury (ABI); Multiple Sclerosis (MD); Spina Bifida; Amputations; Age (infancy – aging); Pain; Sensation; Burns; Skin irritation; Fatigue; Visual ability; Balance; Coordination; Osteogenesis Imperfecta; Infection; Illness.

Impact of Mobility Limitations

A person may experience a lower body mobility limitation, requiring use of a cane, wheelchair or walker, or an upper body limitation which may mean limited or no use of the upper extremities or hands. It is difficult to generalize about the functional abilities of persons with mobility limitations because of the broad variety of disabilities and different diagnoses. A person may have a temporary or a permanent mobility limitation. A temporary limitation, such as that brought about by a surgery or a broken bone, may impact a person’s ability to walk at a similar pace as before, or to participate with ease in physical activity in ways they may have previously. Some individuals may use a walker in their day to day activities, but may rely on a wheelchair in order to participate in more rigorous physical activity.

Among other areas, a mobility limitation can impact, to varying extents:

  • Object manipulation;
  • Manual dexterity;
  • Side to side movements or retrieval;
  • Fine motor activities;
  • Endurance;
  • Physical abilities which vary from day to day.

Useful Information About Mobility Limitations

  • According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability 3, 2,676,370 Canadian adults (9.6 % of the population) were identified as having a mobility disability that limited their daily activities. 
  • According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability Mobility limitations frequently co-occurred with other types of disabilities: 95.7% of adults with a mobility disability also reported at least one other type of disability in 2012.
  • Over half (58.4%) of adults aged 15 to 64 with a mobility disability were not in the labour force, and another 5.6% were unemployed.
  • Overall, nearly 9 in 10 (86.7%) adults with a mobility disability indicated that they required help with some type of everyday activity and nearly two-thirds (63.0%) of these people reported having some level of unmet need for at least one of these support requirements.
  • The median personal income (before taxes) of working-age adults aged 15 to 64 with a mobility disability was slightly over half that of those without any disabilities.
  • Those with a mobility disability were also more likely to be reliant on government transfers as their major source of income (58.7%) compared to those without any reported type of disability (18.7%).


Variety Village –
Canadian Disability Participation Project -
Physical and Mobility Impairments Facts News and Information -

Helping Canadians with Disability/Chronic Disease Get Physically Active

For Canadians with a disability, regular physical activity may be even more important than it is for the rest of the population. For a person with a disability, an active lifestyle can open doors to increased health, social inclusion and self-empowerment - doors which might otherwise remain closed. Access to physical activity can eliminate the likelihood of acquiring secondary health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Being active builds resiliency and can provide an all-important outlet for a person with a disability.


This project would not have been possible without the expertise of our partners. ALACD would like to sincerely thank these organizations for working with us to develop this resource: the Ontario Blind Sports Association, Variety Village, the National Network for Mental Health, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.