Opportunities of Young People with Profound Disabilities to Participate in Sports and Physical Activities

Susan Eriksson & Eero Saukkonen


This research project on the participation of young people with profound disabilities in physical activities deals with the opportunities of those young people with needs for demanding special support to participate in physical leisure activities and youth sports. The research data of this empirical study was collected in different parts of Finland using multi-sited ethnography and semi-structured theme interviews over the years 2020–2021.

The opportunities of the young people to participate in sports and physical activities vary according to the practices of housing units, activity centres, homes, special education schools and youth leisure associations. Medical rehabilitation is a part of the everyday life of many of these young people, and the nature of their disability limits their possibilities to participate in physical activity. However, the requirement to support the young people’s participation permeates professional thinking in the institutional practices of daily life, and the young people are supported, for example, by arranging enjoyable sports and physical hobby activities for them.

The acknowledging and strengthening of the young people’s abilities to engage in sports and physical activities, especially in the practices of special education schools, activity centres and in various hobby cultures, is a key finding of the research project and it supports the view that young people with profound disabilities are able to engage in sports and physical activity hobbies. Although, in the light of our research, the ways of encouraging young people to engage in sports and physical activities are diverse, and creativity, play and goals of artistic expression are important dimensions, the services provided for the young people often lack the resources to exploit the potential of these.

The research also shows that the young people’s sports and physical activities are tied to separate practices that are aimed at people with intellectual disabilities, which does not promote equality among the young people. Although fun and enjoyable activities are important for the young people and this is evident in many ways in our research, considerable efforts are still needed to improve the position of these young people in youth hobby cultures and communities.