First-year students in professor Lorne Opler’s class describe their field trip to world-class inclusive fitness facility Variety Village as “inspiring,” and “eye-opening.” Every year, Opler makes it a priority to include a unit on exercise and disability in a teaching module for his Health and Wellness class, discussing issues of stereotyping and stigma with students. The trip was a part of that module. “My whole philosophy about health and fitness is really about working with marginalized populations,” he explains. “Those who are overlooked are often the ones who need it most: older adults, people with mental health challenges, and people with disabilities.”
During the visit, students were able to take part in a game of wheelchair basketball, bocce ball and shuffleboard, in addition to touring the multifunctional facility that offers swimming lessons and day programs for people of all abilities.
“When you first hear the word disability, you often think of a barrier or setback that impacts your ability to do certain things,” explains Alec Buenaventura, a first-year Fitness and Health Promotion student. “Visiting the facility gave me a lot of joy, seeing that people with disabilities are not that different. It meant a lot to me to experience this firsthand.”
Buenaventura says Variety Village has so much more to offer than just being an inclusive facility. “The people at Variety Village showed me that a positive mindset can really bring you anywhere in life. They’re labeled as people with disabilities, but that doesn’t stop them from doing the things they love.”
Students Cyra Almendras, Jeryan Campo and Katrina Trinidad all say touring the facility had an incredible impact on them. After completing their Bachelor of Physiotherapy in the Philippines, the three friends enrolled at Humber. The trip to Variety Village has now inspired a new long-term goal: to open a similar facility in their home country. “In the Philippines, people with disabilities are commonly associated with being non-functional,” Campo says. “The people there are not really educated about people with disabilities and what their capabilities are.”
Almendras says it was amazing to see a facility where everyone can be together without discrimination. “We’re really motivated to create a place like this,” she says. Trinidad adds they’re really inspired to open up opportunities for others. “Aside from just rehab, we want to offer other accessible programs like swimming, and a gym. It’s not common in the Philippines for people with disabilities to have access.”
Opler is thrilled that students were able to get so much out of the trip. “Giving my students opportunities for real-life experiences that open their eyes, and open up opportunities for them professionally, is really important to me,” he says.
In addition to creating awareness and fostering the conversation about exercise and disability, Opler says he’s motivated to ensure the program stands out and is unique among fitness and health programs. “I want Humber students to have the knowledge, experience, skills and competence around this overlooked part of the industry,” he says. “That’s my goal.”