Patty Wellborn



A photo of an elderly woman talking to a doctor using zoom

The MEDTalks health education speaker explores current and emerging trends in medicine, such as technologies that help provide more treatment approaches for health care professionals.

What: The Southern Medical Program presents MEDTalks: Innovations in Stroke Prevention and Management
Who: UBC Professor Dr. Janice Eng and UBC Assistant Professor Dr. Brodie Sakakibara
When: Tuesday, May 17, 7 to 8 pm
Venue: Reichwald Health Sciences Centre, 1088 Discovery Avenue, UBC Okanagan. Virtual option also available.

Globally, one in four adults will experience the effects of a stroke. And over the next 15 years, the number of Canadians living with the effects of stroke is anticipated to increase by 78 per cent.

Technology—such as the internet, computers, tablets and wearable sensors—is providing even more treatment approaches for health care professionals.

UBC Okanagan is hosting an evening with stroke recovery experts where participants can learn how technology is helping transform rehabilitation for patients and can help support their long-term recovery.

Dr. Janice Eng is a world leader in stroke recovery research—from neurophysiology to novel clinical interventions and treatment programs—and has implemented these programs globally. Dr. Eng is the Canada Research Chair Tier 1 in Neurological Rehabilitation, has been recognized for excellence in mentoring early-career faculty, and is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

She is one of six UBC faculty recently honoured as a University Killam Professor. Recognized for her outstanding research and teaching career, it is the highest honour UBC can bestow on its faculty.

Dr. Brodie Sakakibara is an Assistant Professor with the UBC Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and an investigator with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan. Dr. Sakakibara’s primary research focuses on telehealth and self-management of behavioural risk factors to minimize morbidity and mortality associated with stroke and cardiovascular disease.

MEDTalks is a health education lecture series exploring current and emerging trends in medicine. Hosted by the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan, researchers and health professionals share their insights and expertise on how to enhance your overall health.

The event is free and open to the public with in-person and virtual options available.

To register, or find out more, visit:

The post UBCO launches new health lecture series MEDTalks appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A grip and grin photo of UBC and government officials

UBC Faculty of Medicine and partners celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan together with Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee, and Susan Brown, President and CEO of Interior Health.

Today, the Faculty of Medicine celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Southern Medical Program (SMP) at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) campus in Kelowna.  Opened in 2011, the SMP has graduated more than 215 doctors, helping to improve health care for patients and families in B.C. It’s also one of four sites within UBC’s broader distributed medical education program, which is training the next generation of medical students and resident doctors around the province including in Victoria, Prince George and Vancouver-Fraser. Every year, the SMP welcomes 32 new medical students, of which up to 10 seats are designated for applicants with rural and remote backgrounds. At any given time, approximately 130 medical students and more than 90 resident doctors are training at hospitals, primary care and health care clinical settings across the Interior Health region. “UBC’s Southern Medical Program in Kelowna is one of four places around the province where UBC is training our province’s future doctors,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “Regional education opportunities are important because we know students are more likely to stay and practice in the communities they study in. This is a remarkable outcome.” Since its inception in 2004, the province-wide distributed medical education program has remained a strategic partnership between UBC, the Government of BC, the health authorities, the local communities, the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Since then, medical school enrolment in B.C. has more than doubled with a growing number of graduates choosing to stay on and practice in B.C. where their education and training took place. Overall, more than 90 per cent of students who complete their undergraduate and postgraduate medical education training at UBC stay in B.C. to practice. “Eighteen years ago, UBC embarked on an ambitious plan to remap medical education to better serve the province,” said Dermot Kelleher, dean, faculty of medicine and vice-president of health, UBC. “Today, the university is a global leader in distributed medical education and together with our partners in the SMP, we’re training world-class doctors that are passionate about building a health-care system that is more equitable, diverse and inclusive for patients and communities.” In collaboration with Interior Health, close to 2,000 medical student and resident doctor rotations take place every year in hospitals, primary care settings and clinics helping to extend the delivery of health care. “Interior Health is proud to celebrate ten years of partnership and collaboration with UBC’s Southern Medical Program,” said Susan Brown, president and CEO, Interior Health. “It’s been a privilege to support medical students embarking on their health care careers, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen the medical community throughout the Interior, together.” The program also provides students from all four sites with community-based learning opportunities that prepares future health care professionals to provide high-quality, culturally-safe care, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes for the patients and communities they will serve. In addition to training future doctors, the SMP is a hub for world-leading medical research with a particular focus on the health needs of people living in the Interior. The program is home to the new Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, which is accelerating new treatments and preventions for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurologic conditions. “UBC Okanagan has firmly established itself as a leading medical education and research-focused university serving the needs of the Interior,” said Dr. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal, UBC Okanagan. “We’re proud to be home to the SMP and delivering world-class medical education and research that is improving the lives of British Columbians.” UBC’s distributed medical program was one of the first of its kind in the world and is now one of the largest medical programs in North America. Each year, UBC accepts 288 first-year medical students and 362 first-year resident doctors, helping to grow B.C.’s health workforce and enhance quality of care for British Columbians. Learn more about how SMP students and alumni are weaving healthcare into the fabric of B.C. communities here.
A photo of Dr. Roger Wong talking with students

Dr. Roger Wong, Vice Dean of Education in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, chats with current SMP students, with Minister Kang and MLA Sandhu.

The post UBC’s Southern Medical Program celebrates 10 years of graduating doctors in B.C.’s Interior appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
Disabled young man training in the gym

UBCO researchers say more people living with disabilities need to be included in health research.

While the light shines on athletes participating in Beijing’s Paralympic Games this week, UBC researchers are asking why more people who live with disabilities are not included in basic health research.

Dr. Sarah Brears and Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis say that while more than one billion people—15 per cent of the world’s population—live with some form of disability, they are notably absent from much of the scientific research that takes place.

“There is a serious disconnect,” says Dr. Martin Ginis, Director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan. “People living with disabilities are at greater risk for developing chronic diseases than the general population, and yet fewer than 0.3 per cent of nearly 27,000 peer reviewed research articles in major medical journals addressed the health of people living with a disability.”

She also says fewer than 0.001 per cent of the articles addressed physical activity, for people living with these disabilities or impairments.

For the general population, Dr. Martin Ginis says extensive high-quality evidence from observational studies and randomized controlled trials show that physical activity is associated with a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and site-specific cancers.

Scientists from the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization reviewed research on nine common disabling conditions including osteoarthritis, intellectual disabilities, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, history of stroke, major clinical depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and spinal cord injury.

Both entities found insufficient research to determine the relation between physical activity and the risk of developing chronic diseases for any people living with these conditions, says Dr. Martin Ginis.

“Disability is not merely the presence of a medical condition,” she adds. “Rather, disability occurs when impairments—whether they are physical, mental, sensory or intellectual—interact with personal and environmental barriers to impede a person’s ability to fully participate in society.”

For instance, a patient who has arthritis is not necessarily disabled. But if they have impaired physical mobility and need to use elevators instead of stairs, or can’t take a mobility scooter on public transit, their ability to work or move freely in their community is restricted and they would be considered disabled by the medical community. Dr. Martin Ginis says this is a further example of the people who should be included in health-related research.”

Dr. Brears, Regional Associate Dean, Interior of the Southern Medical Program, says the disconnect goes deeper than that. There are scientific practices that exclude people living with disabilities from participating in research on physical activity and chronic disease. For instance, impairments in walking, mental health and communication were a cause of exclusion in landmark clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of physical activity to reduce the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“The exclusion of people living with disabilities in such studies must stop,” says Dr. Brears. “Quite simply, this violates the fundamental principle of justice in research ethics—no segment of the population should be denied the benefits of research, and this is a human rights issue.”

Without such data, she says evidence-based physical activity policies, programs and guidelines cannot be developed to address health differences and disparities experienced by these vulnerable populations.

The research, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, calls for coordinated efforts to collect population-level data on physical activity and chronic disease among people living with disabilities. There are currently no existing international methods to monitor and assess physical activity and chronic disease in people living with disabilities, unlike for the general population. In most national health surveillance systems, disability is either an exclusion criterion or is simply not measured.

“People living with disabilities urgently need advances in health science and practice,” adds Dr. Brears. “Addressing the lack of research on physical activity and chronic disease prevention in people living with disabilities has profound implications for developing evidence-informed best practices in health service delivery, decreasing health-care costs and enhancing the well­being of more than one billion adults and children worldwide.”

The post UBCO researchers call out scientists for ignoring people with disabilities appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A photo of a nurse giving an elbow bump to a young girl

UBC Okanagan researchers are teaming up with Interior Health clinicians to ensure children and young people with Type 1 diabetes in the region are getting the best patient care possible.

A new UBC Okanagan and Interior Health research collaboration is examining the quality of patient care for children and youth with Type 1 diabetes in the BC interior. Researchers with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (CCDPM) and Interior Health are undertaking an extensive review of patient outcomes and treatment plans for young people with diabetes, reported over a five-year timeframe. “Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions in children,” says Dr. Christine Voss, CCDPM investigator and assistant professor with UBC’s Department of Pediatrics. “Access and proximity to specialized care, adherence to treatment plans and individual circumstances all factor into successfully managing the disease long-term.” In BC, more than 2,200 young people live with diabetes, which equates to about two to three of every 1,000 children being affected by this life-threatening disease, says Dr. Voss. She also notes that patients with Type 1 diabetes must undergo ongoing insulin therapy, frequent and invasive testing and regular appointments with health-care teams. They also have an increased risk of developing other chronic conditions such as thyroid disease. Interior Health currently has seven Diabetes Education Centres with pediatric services situated across the region that support more than 350 young people with Type 1 diabetes. Researchers are studying numerous factors that may impact care including clinical treatment options, gender and age differences, socio-economic factors and other environmental influences. “The research will provide an in-depth picture of how clinical practice guidelines are applied across our health authority,” says Dr. Tom Warshawski, IH medical director for children and youth and the study’s co-principle investigator. “Our ultimate goal is to optimize health and quality of life for children and youth with diabetes.” The new study is a direct result of the CCDPM’s Clinical Research and Quality Improvement Incubator that supports opportunities for clinicians and allied health professionals to engage in research and quality improvement projects. “We are thrilled to work with IH clinicians and their research department on projects that will directly impact patient care,” adds Dr. Voss. “The new study also provided opportunities for medical and undergraduate students to collaborate on clinical research.” The clinical study is also partially funded by a new fellowship from the Colin & Lois Pritchard Foundation. The fellowship supports an undergraduate student while working on a clinical research project with a UBC Okanagan investigator and an Interior Health clinician.
A photo collage of individuals with disabilities

The COVID-19 Disability Survey captured perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

On Friday, December 3,  the United Nations observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in a global effort to increase awareness for the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, UBC Okanagan professor and director for the Centre of Chronic Disease Prevention and Management is currently leading the national COVID-19 Disability Survey in partnership with the Ontario-based Abilities Centre. The latest survey results confirm critical support is needed to prevent further hardships experienced by Canadians living with disabilities.

What are the major issues facing Canadians living with disabilities during COVID-19?

Mental health and social isolation are significant areas of concern. The majority of respondents, some 78 per cent reported the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Among adults, 90 per cent had a worse mental health score than the general population average and 82 per cent reported greater social isolation. For children living with disabilities, almost all respondents, 98 per cent of them, had a worse mental health score compared to the population average.

What increased stressors or barriers are people facing?

About 50 per cent of respondents reported constant worries about finances, future plans, and friends and family. Other stressors included access to vaccines, fear of catching COVID-19, becoming seriously ill, transportation safety and hygiene as well as general anxiety over world issues. Since the start of the pandemic, 68 per cent have had their work hours reduced, been laid off or furloughed. As Canadians with disabilities are already at greater risk of unemployment, ongoing reductions in work among this group are deeply concerning.

How has the pandemic impacted healthy behaviours?

A large group of adults, almost 60 per cent, reported less physical activity and worse eating habits. Of those who smoke, use cannabis or drink alcohol, roughly half reported increased substance use. On a positive note, the proportion of adults meeting the World Health Organization’s adult physical activity guidelines has increased from the initial survey reporting from 19 to 32 per cent. Among children with disabilities, 63 per cent are less physically active and 47 per cent have worse eating habits than before the pandemic. The overall level of inactivity in this population is particularly troubling—56 per cent of children with disabilities do not meet the daily recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity.

What can be done to better support Canadians living with disabilities?

There is an urgent need for government agencies and community organizations to develop and implement pandemic response strategies to support the needs of people of all abilities. Increased access to services that can improve mental health and reduce social isolation is crucial to prevent damaging health impacts. A significant boost in funding for emotional counselling, peer support, recreation and leisure programs, as well as attendant care services is required as the pandemic and public health restrictions continue. The COVID-19 Disability Survey reporting represents data from Canadians who identify as having a disability—such as a physical, cognitive or sensory disability—or having a child or family member living with a disability in their household. To learn more and read the full report, visit:
an elderly person holding up a piece of wearable tech

UBCO researchers are using wearable technology to help track the involuntary movements of Parkinson’s patients.

Wearable health technologies are vastly popular with people wanting to improve their physical and mental health. Everything from exercise, sleep patterns, calories consumed and heart rhythms can be tracked by a wearable device. But timely and accurate data is also especially valuable for doctors treating patients with complicated health conditions using virtual care. A new study from the Southern Medical Program (SMP), based at UBC Okanagan, has examined the use of wearable health technology and telehealth to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Daryl Wile, a movement disorder specialist and SMP clinical assistant professor, routinely uses telehealth to connect with Parkinson’s patients across the vast and rugged landscape of BC’s Interior. “Even prior to the pandemic, telehealth helped deliver specialized care to patients living in remote and rural settings,” says Wile, a clinical investigator with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management. “But with the complex nature of Parkinson’s, we wanted to enhance these appointments to better understand how movements vary throughout a patient’s entire day.” To add a new layer of health information, Wile and the research team added wearable technology to the equation. “We recruited Parkinson’s patients with either tremors or involuntary movements,” says Joshua Yoneda, SMP student and co-author of the study. “We then divided them into two groups — some using telehealth and device-based health tracking and others attending traditional face-to-face appointments.” The telehealth group wore wearable devices to track their movements, involuntary or not, throughout waking hours. The reported data was then reviewed during telehealth appointments to identify peak times patients experienced Parkinson’s symptoms. “With the integration of accurate and reliable data from wearable devices, we were able to tailor a patient’s medication to better manage their symptoms throughout the day,” adds Wile. As part of the study, patients were asked a series of questions from the standardized Parkinson Disease Quality of Life Index. Both study groups were assessed at intervals of six weeks, three months and six months. Overall, the patients using the wearable devices reported positive experiences and health outcomes in combination with telehealth appointments to access specialized care. “There’s definitely a strong case to leverage multiple technologies to improve a patient’s quality of life and limit the added stress and cost associated with travel,” says Yoneda. The study was recently published in Parkinsonism & Related Disorders.
UBCO Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen has a virtual conversation with students Rowan Laird and Jimmy Lopez.

UBCO Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen has a virtual conversation with students Rowan Laird and Jimmy Lopez.

Teaching children how to navigate health claims during COVID-19

Although bogus health claims have dogged humanity for centuries, a UBC Okanagan professor says COVID-19 has made the importance of navigating health claims more critical than ever. And there are plans to make BC’s elementary school students better health detectives, one class at a time.

Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen is a clinical associate professor with the Southern Medical Program (SMP) based at UBCO. As the global pandemic emerged last spring she became increasingly concerned with how health misinformation was impacting children.

“Internet connectivity and social media have fuelled the spread of health misinformation, while rotating lockdowns have increased uncertainty and reluctance to follow public health guidelines,” she says.

Cornelissen, a registered dietitian in Kelowna, enlisted the help of Rowan Laird, first-year SMP student and Jimmy Lopez, graduate research assistant with BC Children's Hospital’s Vaccine Evaluation Center, to create a virtual seminar to teach children how to evaluate and identify reputable sources of health information.

“Misinformation is so endemic these days,” says Laird, who took on the project as part of a UBC Faculty of Medicine’s flexible and enhanced learning course. “Our goal is to teach students how to navigate health information online, spot misinformation and think critically about health claims.”

The project team presented their one-hour seminar “So You Want to be a Health Detective?” to a Grade 5/6 split class at École Glenmore Elementary in Kelowna. Laird was keenly interested in learning how and why 10- to 12-year-olds access information on their own.

The interactive session presented tips about evaluating information sources and encouraging the students to think critically about the 5Ws (who, what when, where, and why) to help spot websites that lack current scientific data or might have ulterior motives.

Feedback from the class indicated students often turn to Google to research questions they are initially reluctant to ask a parent or teacher out of fear of embarrassment. The internet is seen as a trial run before discussing with someone they trust.

“At times, it can appear people who are spreading misinformation are given an equal platform to the actual health experts,” says École Glenmore Elementary teacher Elizabeth Archer. “It is important for students to grow up recognizing they have a responsibility to look more deeply into headlines and general claims — especially about their own bodies.”

Students were given a pop quiz before and after the seminar to assess attitudes towards misinformation, trustworthy sources and their confidence levels in assessing online information. They were also given a blind test to compare web pages from the BC Centre for Disease Control and a prominent anti-vaccination organization.

“Within five minutes of studying each webpage, they were able to quickly identify the trustworthy source,” adds Laird. “I was really impressed how quickly they applied their critical thinking skills to assess the credibility of the information.”

The successful pilot has pushed the team to explore opportunities to expand the seminar to more schools and grades across the province in the fall.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

Aidan O’Callahan is UBCO’s winner of the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. Photo courtesy of Kayley Jackson at Rural Roots Photography.

Aidan O’Callahan is UBCO’s winner of the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. Photo courtesy of Kayley Jackson at Rural Roots Photography.08

Honours psychology graduate wins Lieutenant Governor’s medal

Although Aidan O’Callahan describes himself as a planner — a critical thinker who likes to get his ducks in a row before committing to anything — it’s almost a fluke he ended up at UBC Okanagan.

With American and Canadian parents, O’Callahan was finishing high school in a small town in Connecticut when he began investigating which university to attend. His mother had one request — just apply to a single school in Canada, for fun. He started an online search looking for something unique where he could feel at home, but also where he could explore his full potential.

“It really is a coincidence I ended up at UBC Okanagan,” O’Callahan says. “I was applying to American schools in cities like Boston and New York. When I looked up schools in Canada I found UBCO. I came to visit the Okanagan campus with my dad and I thought ‘wow, this is pretty unique. This is the place for me.’”

Part of UBCO’s appeal, he says, is the close-knit campus and how easy it is to make connections with students and professors from every faculty.

While a student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, O’Callahan found it easy to learn across faculties as he was curious about many things. It was his curiosity and confidence that led the psychology student to reach out to Dr. Charlotte Jones, an associate professor with the Faculty of Medicine.

“I have always been interested in thinking critically, especially as it relates to policies in health care, politics, and social services,” he says. “Because I like to understand an issue from multiple perspectives, I became passionate about Indigenous-led projects in health care and multidisciplinary work within the health care system. I started learning more about Dr. Jones’ interesting research and reached out to her.”

O’Callahan’s curiosity led to the Faculty of Medicine Summer Student Research Program and then a separate position with a UBC Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Project in Health Scholarship. He completed this research with the help of Dr. Jones and School of Nursing Associate Professor Dr. Donna Kurtz. This in turn led him to Prince George and Kamloops where he worked with several communities to co-develop an Indigenous-led culturally safe telehealth service for people living with diabetes and obesity.

Laying that foundation led to three years of research, including opportunities at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, UBC’s Faculty of Medicine and Yale University. While conducting this research, he also managed to earn top grades in his studies.

Last week, O’Callahan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, Honours in Psychology and a Minor in Indigenous Studies. Along with his degree, he was also presented the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal.

The Lieutenant Governor’s medal program recognizes students who excel in their studies while making outstanding contributions in inclusion, democracy and/or reconciliation on campus or in their communities.

It was his academic standing, combined with his kindness, empathy, and leadership skills, that prompted Dr. Jones to nominate him for the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal.

“I have been impressed by Aidan's academic achievements — completing an honours degree and getting an almost perfect GPA — while conducting research,” says Dr. Jones. “His knowledge of Indigenous peoples and their health and wellness, his work ethic, his determination, and his ability to flourish in cross-cultural relations has demonstrated his gentle but effective leadership style.”

When asked about his academic accomplishments, O’Callahan quickly changes the subject.

“I don’t really like to talk about my grades. I recognize they are important and you don’t get great grades just from talent. It has been a lot of hard work,” he admits. “However, I also recognize I’ve come from a privileged position. There is no way I would have accomplished my grades or my volunteer experience if I was hungry most days. Too many university and college students go hungry and it has been shown that this decreases concentration, motivation and overall well-being. Sure, I’ve faced barriers, but there has always been food on the table and people in the background supporting me.”

Even though he has graduated, student food insecurity still concerns O’Callahan. He is hopeful UBCO student advocates can work with local government and the university to ensure fewer students are food insecure every year.

With five years of university behind him, O’Callahan currently works with BrainTrust Canada helping clients with brain injuries who have previously been incarcerated. He’s taking an academic break before making his next move. For a planner, he sees the irony in not knowing what is next. He is keeping his doors open, knowing he has knocked on the right ones, and plans to eventually apply to UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

“I love living in the Okanagan and it is such an honour to work and volunteer with the Syilx people,” he says. “I know that the next decision I make will determine my life direction and I am very excited for what the future holds.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

The COVID-19 Disability Survey captured perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

The COVID-19 Disability Survey captured perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

Nearly 30 per cent of those polled are hesitant to get vaccinated

A new study led by UBC researchers and the Ontario-based Abilities Centre is sounding the alarm over the damaging effects of COVID-19 for Canadians with disabilities.

Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, points to public health restrictions and lack of community resources as key contributors to heightened challenges facing those living with disabilities.

“Limited social support, reduced access to recreational space and financial uncertainties have exacerbated the current situation,” says Martin Ginis, a professor at UBC Okanagan. “As the pandemic continues to draw on, we need to prevent more individuals from slipping further through the cracks.”

The COVID-19 Disability Survey targeted Canadians who identify as having a disability — such as a physical, cognitive or sensory disability — or having a child or family member living with a disability in their household. The survey collected responses from across Canada and with representation from most provinces and territories.

Of those surveyed, 82 per cent reported that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health. Individuals reported unmet needs for emotional counselling, recreation and leisure programs, income support, specialized health care, accessible housing and transportation.

A majority of people reported decreased physical activity, less healthy lifestyles and significant social isolation. For children with disabilities, more than half of parents reported their child experiencing decreased physical activities as a result of public health restrictions.

“Another key finding was that only 72 per cent of Canadians with disabilities planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Stuart McReynolds, president and chief executive officer with the Abilities Centre. “We need to help boost vaccine confidence for all individuals, so we can collectively put this public health crisis behind us.”

The COVID-19 Disability Survey data has already contributed to positive policy changes such as the Ontario Government’s amendment for people with disabilities to have access to physical therapy programs and by providing guidance around how to ensure that vaccination sites are fully accessible.

“This survey provides a snapshot of the negative impact of the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions on the well-being of Canadians with disabilities,” adds Martin Ginis. “We strongly urge governments and community agencies to work quickly to address service gaps and mitigate further negative mental and physical health impacts.”

The full report can be viewed at:

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

About the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management

Based at UBC Okanagan, the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (CCDPM) serves as a leader for research, knowledge translation and exchange in the urgent research field of chronic disease prevention. The CCDPM is the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s first research centre located outside of the Lower Mainland. To learn more, visit:

About the Abilities Centre

Abilities Centre strives to make communities more accessible and inclusive to increase quality of life for every individual and enable them to participate fully in community and economic life. As a community hub, living lab and inclusion incubator, Abilities Centre engages individuals and communities in inclusive and accessible programs, leads research and advocacy on inclusion issues, and develops innovative frameworks for programs that are replicable, scalable and customizable to the needs of local communities in Durham Region and across Ontario and Canada. Learn more at:

A UBC professor says the WHO exercise guidelines for people with disabilities miss the mark because they are not based on people who exercise mainly with their arms.

A UBC professor says the WHO exercise guidelines for people with disabilities miss the mark because they are not based on people who exercise mainly with their arms.

Physical activity guidelines for people living with disabilities miss the mark

A UBC researcher is calling out the World Health Organization’s newly introduced activity and sedentary guidelines for people living with disabilities.

Kathleen Martin Ginis is director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management and a professor with UBC’s Department of Medicine and UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. She holds the Reichwald Family Chair in Preventive Medicine, is a researcher with the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries and works to help people living with spinal cord injury maintain a physically active lifestyle.

Martin Ginis discusses the WHO’s recently-announced global guidelines and how they missed the mark.

Much of your research focuses on physical activity guidelines for people living with disabilities. Can you explain why getting exercise is so important for this population?

People with disabilities are at just as much risk for inactivity-related chronic diseases (heart disease, Type 2 diabetes) as the general population, if not more so. We also know that physical activity is important for mental health. However, people with disabilities do far less activity than the general population because of the countless barriers to activity that they face in their daily lives.

You have recently written an article for the Human Kinetics Journal, questioning the World Health Organization’s new physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for people living with disabilities. What did they get wrong?

I’ve got several concerns with these guidelines. My biggest is that the guidelines are based on scientific evidence derived from studies of people without disabilities. Admittedly, there are still relatively few good studies that have measured the role of physical activity in preventing chronic diseases and improving the health of people with diseases. But in the absence of those types of studies, the WHO decided to simply extrapolate the research evidence for the general population and apply it to people with disabilities.

The upshot is that the guidelines for people with disabilities are now exactly the same as for the general population—150 to 300 minutes each week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and strength-training twice per week. One problem with this is that people with certain types of physical impairments do not have the same physiological response to exercise as the general population. We don’t know if they will get the same benefits from the recommended guidelines as the general population.

Also, none of the guideline evidence is based on people who do their exercise with their arms (e.g., to push a wheelchair or use an arm-cycle). No studies have looked at the long-term effects of 150 to 300 minutes a week of arm exercise so we don’t know the benefits or the risks. Even for people with disabilities who would be expected to have the same physiological response to exercise as the general population (e.g., people with visual or cognitive impairments), we cannot simply assume that that amount of physical activity will mitigate the many other risks to well-being that people with disabilities constantly face, such as poverty, lack of access to health care and social isolation.

Your paper talks about the tremendous societal barriers to participation. Can you explain what some of these barriers might be?

There are so many! People with disabilities are often turned away from fitness centres and recreation facilities not just because those spaces are physically inaccessible, but because the people who work there have misconceptions or a complete lack of knowledge about how to support a person with a disability in a physical activity setting.

A lack of transportation is also a huge barrier—one of the most common. People with disabilities are mostly excluded from public health campaigns and advertisements promoting physical activity. There’s the old adage ‘’if you can see it, you can be it.” Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t see themselves represented in physical activity settings as often as they should.

If people living with disabilities decide these guidelines are unrealistic and unachievable, do you think they will simply stop trying to be active?

Yes. That’s my concern. The studies that we do have on physical activity for people with disabilities suggest that they can achieve significant health and fitness benefits by doing much less than 150 minutes a week. For instance, people living with spinal cord injury can improve their cardiometabolic health by doing 90 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise each week.

Given the plethora of barriers to physical activity experienced by people with disabilities, and evidence of significant benefits from lower doses of physical activity, it does not make sense for the WHO to promote the general population’s guideline as being an appropriate guideline for people with disabilities. I understand the WHO had good intentions to be inclusive with this guideline, but my concern is that the guideline will actually put people off, and further exclude people with disabilities from physical activity.

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UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

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