'Let's make it easy for these kids': Calgary doctor connects disabled children with accessible activities

A Calgary doctor is helping families of children with physical and intellectual disabilities find accessible recreational activities, in an effort to help them become more physically active.

Sarah MacEachern is working to promote a free Canadian app

Dr. Sarah MacEachern, a University of Calgary pediatric resident, says there is no centralized resource in Calgary for accessible and inclusive physical activities. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Dr. Sarah MacEachern is on a campaign to get kids with disabilities more physically active — and help parents make that happen.

MacEachern, a first-year University of Calgary pediatric resident, has spent years working with children who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

"We know that children in Canada are not getting enough physical activity," said MacEachern.

"We know that children with disabilities have an even harder time getting physical activity compared to their peers."

Families frustrated by search

One of the biggest problems is that families don't know how to find accessible activities, because there is no centralized resource in Calgary, MacEachern said. 

Fiona Singh is struggling to find accessible and inclusive physical activities for her 12-year-old son, Muzaffar Hussain. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Fiona Singh knows that struggle well. Her 12-year-old son Muzaffar Hussain was born with spina bifida and is developmentally delayed.

​"Because he's in a wheelchair there's not many programs that are accessible for him," said Singh, who is currently looking for programs for her son.  

"It's mostly by word of mouth...It's tiring. It's frustrating."

Filling the gap

Knowing that gap exists, MacEachern set out to find a way to help.

"They have to do a lot of legwork and it's very labour intensive and these families already face many challenges," said MacEachern. "Lets take those barriers away. Let's make it easy for these kids."

With the help of an Alberta Medical Association grant, MacEachern has teamed up with researchers at McGill University to promote their free app, Jooay.

It connects families with nearby accessible leisure activities — including sports and arts programs as well as camps in an effort to improve health and social well-being.

"I'm really hoping that it takes off because I think that there's a huge need," she said.

Spreading the word

Let's take those barriers away. Let's make it easy for these kids.- Dr. Sarah MacEachern

MacEachern is now on a mission to promote the app.

As Jooay's Alberta ambassador, she's working to let accessible programs in Calgary know about the app so they can add their information. 

She plans to promote Jooay among pediatricians, and she'll be hosting events around the city in the months to come to raise awareness about physical activity and to educate families about the app.

"There's good evidence to suggest that if children with disabilities are physically active it has a positive impact on their quality of life," said MacEachern.

"Getting kids involved in the community and out playing and socializing and making friends is just great for everyone."

MacEachern will be hosting events around the city to promote physical activity and let families know about the app. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

About the Author

Jennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon, and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know. Jennifer.Lee@cbc.ca