Physical activity affords wide-ranging physiological and psychological benefits for children and adolescents, regardless of disability status . However, regular participation in physical activity appears to hold important additional benefits for individuals with physical disabilities. For example, evidence is emerging that physical activity is vital for prevention of deterioration in physical function and independence in young and middle aged adults with cerebral palsy [2–4]. Furthermore, physical activity plays a key role in the management of chronic health conditions such as asthma  and heart disease , and these are common comorbidities in children with physical disabilities .
Up to 3.7% of Australian children have a physical disability , in many cases affecting their ability to participate in everyday life. Therapy and health services for young people with disabilities have traditionally focussed on secondary prevention. A focus on physical activity, per se, for young people with physical disabilities is a relatively fledgling field of research. Recent research has shown that young people with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities are less physically active than their non-disabled peers [8, 9]. It is also clear that young people with disabilities tend to participate in lower intensity physical activities compared with children without disabilities .
To date, just a handful of physical activity interventions for young people with disabilities have been reported in the scientific literature [11–14]. Ideally, such programs need to be flexible, in order to accommodate the wide range of participants’ gross motor abilities and interests. Additionally, young people with physical disabilities are often geographically dispersed and face transport barriers, therefore programs which can be undertaken without intensive face-to-face contact with therapists or fitness instructors are advantageous. Furthermore, programs requiring minimal equipment and staffing resources offer considerable potential to be incorporated into ongoing services provided by therapists and health providers.
Pedometers are small devices, typically worn on the waist band which measure step counts . Pedometer-based interventions are a simple and effective means of increasing physical activity, with a recent systematic review of pedometer-based interventions in youth without disabilities finding that 12 out of 14 studies produced significant increases in physical activity . Furthermore, development of self-management skills is believed to enhance well-being, self-determination and participation in health care, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes, as well as reduced health care utilisation (and associated costs) . To address these issues, we have developed a six-week self-management, pedometer-based physical activity program for young people with physical disabilities, titled “StepUp”.
This study aims to evaluate this new six-week pedometer-based self-management program for ambulant children and adolescents with physical disabilities. Specifically, it aims to determine (a) whether the program is effective in increasing physical activity over the course of the 6 week intervention and at longer-term follow up, (b) whether the program impacts physical self-worth, exercise intention, pain and fatigue and quality of life, and (c) the program’s acceptability and engagement.