Fit-Pals* is a university-based, service-learning program with a mission to prepare adults with disabilities to engage in lifelong physical activity. We conducted a Needs Assessment to evaluate recent programmatic partnerships with community-based fitness organizations. We aimed to (1) evaluate organizational perceptions of Fit-Pals’ partnership efforts, and (2) identify perceived organizational needs to improve inclusion practices. Representatives from each of our seven partner organizations participated in an online-survey, follow-up interviews, and a stakeholder meeting. A thematic analysis of survey and interview responses highlighted areas for programmatic growth related to training in disability awareness and fitness accommodations, and improved communication across all partnership levels. Our stakeholder meeting further identified gaps between advocacy for disability inclusion, and awareness of actionable steps to effectively enact this within organizations. Drawing from the literature we discuss Fit-Pals’ efforts to increase the capacity of our community partners to support members with disabilities. *Pseudonym

Plain Language Summary

Fit-Pals is an exercise program for adults with disabilities. In our program, adults with disabilities go to activity classes with a college student “buddy”. The two buddies go swimming or do yoga or other exercise together. In the past, fitness buddies exercised alone at the university recreation center. Now, fitness buddies go to activity classes with other people in their community. We want to know if this change was a good idea. So, we did a “Needs Assessment.” We talked to people leading the community activity classes. We asked what they liked about Fit-Pals. We asked how we could help them make their classes better for adults with disabilities.

Our needs assessment had three parts. First, we asked people to answer questions in an online survey. Eight leaders from community activity programs did the survey. Second, we met for in-person interviews to ask more questions. We asked what they liked and disliked about Fit-Pals. We asked what they wanted to change. Third, we invited community leaders to lunch. Fitness buddies and Fit-Pals staff also came to lunch. We talked about what we learned from the survey and interviews. Together we planned how to make Fit-Pals better.

We learned everyone likes that we match fitness buddies together. Activity leaders said they do not always know how to help adults with disabilities but they want to learn. They also want everyone in Fit-Pals to talk more to each-other. Our plan is to help fitness buddies and activity leaders work together. Fitness buddies are going to teach activity leaders about adults with disabilities. They are going to be role models. We hope others learn from us. We hope others make programs like Fit-Pals. We want all activity programs in the community to include adults with disabilities.

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