Promoting the well-being of people with disabilities

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Cycling, Nordic walking, running, swimming… Here are some of the many ways to exercise healthily. A concept that the ANAIS Foundation has decided to look at to improve the well-being and quality of life of its beneficiaries with disabilities. Meeting with Pascal Bruel, the chairman.

ANAIS Foundation, what is that?

The ANAIS Foundation is an organization that was founded in 1954 under an associative model. The great social crises of the time created the need to offer solutions to young people, especially children in the beginning, who had a double form of disability: intellectual disability and social problems. In this France, which was reorganizing itself with these people who were somewhat outside society, solutions had to be found. The ANAÏS association therefore primarily supervised the children. Then they became teenagers, adults and solutions had to be found there too. One of the first priorities was to get them a job. Then we turned to other pathologies. Then came therapeutic and care structures for much more medicalized forms of disabilities.

Over time, the association took shape. After a recognition of public benefit in 2007, we devised a new form of government, to transform ourselves into a foundation. We now have an entity that drives and tries to respond with reactivity, agility and professionalism. Today, ANAIS has a hundred branches and services with 2,600 people who work continuously and 4,000 permanent reception places.

Why did you switch to healthy sports?

The genesis of this project is primarily a public health issue in a broad sense. It doesn’t just affect the ANAIS foundation and ordinary so-called typical neuropeople. Even if, of course, it concerns all the most vulnerable population groups. The observations that can be made, in terms of public health, are that today we have a civilization that is a little less in terms of physical activity and sports. Surveys conducted among young college and high school students show a real loss of physical capacity. This observation applies to our population, as it does to people with disabilities. So how can these people with disabilities improve their health and quality of life? One way is to return to more or less intense physical activity.

The really triggering factor was of course the covid period. This pandemic has exposed a clear isolation, which has led to people who are a little more excluded are even more so. The successive incarcerations led to a somewhat negative spiral, in which we withdrew into ourselves, without going out, without meeting anyone, even with an increasingly unbalanced diet. From there came the idea of ​​a project that would lead people to go out with activities between us, but also with other athletes, to strengthen, in addition to physical and mental health, the creation of social bonds. Here’s the idea of ​​getting out of this period of incarceration, which was absolutely horrible.

The ANAIS Foundation puts cycling in the spotlight to promote healthy sports.
The ANAIS Foundation puts cycling in the spotlight to promote healthy sports.

The ANAIS Foundation puts cycling in the spotlight to promote healthy sports.

How would you describe healthy sport? What are the main benefits and benefits for people with disabilities?

We don’t do what’s called prescription sports. Everyone participates in healthy sports, almost without knowing it. When you go jogging, exercising in the club next door is a healthy sport. That means sport for your well-being, to feel good in your sneakers, good in your body and mind, to see people. It is the opportunity to opt for a physical activity like any other citizen and of course it brings enormous benefits. First, as said before, to improve their physical and mental health, improve their quality of life and create social bonds.

As part of our project, we worked on choosing non-traumatic activities. These make it possible to develop muscle and thus heart strengthening and to improve the physical capacities of all people with medical monitoring. We return to well-known and classic activities such as cycling, Nordic walking, running or even swimming.

So when we talk about healthy sports, isn’t it about all kinds of sports?

If it becomes the trend tomorrow of course! But right now, if we want to create an event, we have to propose a mass event, which can interest the largest number. And what are the sports that can be practiced by the greatest number, non-traumatic and adaptable to people with motor disabilities or adaptation difficulties, compensable by technical means?

This question naturally led us to bicycles. The bike contains all these features, with modified materials. Anyone can do this physical activity. The health dimension is the pinnacle of it all and health is also psychological health through social ties. Food, muscle strengthening, social ties, everything arises around this dynamic.

Of course we can always practice a sport alone, but we can also seek this social connection. Even if you are one of the few practitioners in a table tennis club, it is very good because at least the practitioner will meet other people. So it is all this social bond that also allows the people we support in our structures, in our services, to be in contact with the outside world as much as possible.

Can you tell us more about the “health sports” project launched by the ANAIS Foundation?

The primary goal of our project is to provide the people we support with the choice of a physical activity. Many people are held back, especially because of the fear of the other person’s gaze. So there is a lot of work to be done. We start with cycling, but the idea is to open up to other sports, according to everyone’s wishes.

Again, this project is being built on a voluntary basis, we have not imposed anything on anyone. Today we mobilize about 150 people with disabilities and about 80 accompanying professionals. The project started with training for our professionals. It was important to us that they could properly supervise this activity. Thierry Delage, the coach of the French team in adapted paracycling, helped us in the project.

That’s why we launched a major training program last January based on ‘knowing how to ride a bike’. This is the program offered to children at school and adapted for accompanied persons. There are very varied exercises, such as changing a wheel, choosing your helmet, braking, driving in tandem… We have counted all the km traveled since January, we are currently at more than 10,000 km. Many small challenges, quizzes or bike models are organized to mobilize other sectors of activity.

The guidance and the number of health sports sessions offered depend on the locations. For some it’s once a week, for others two. It also depends on the number of participants. For now, this project is only for our beneficiaries. But we would like to open it up to outsiders. In addition to allowing the people we already support to graduate from clubs in the mainstream.

Then there is the big challenge of June 23. All participants were proposed to meet at the Jacques Anquetil velodrome in Paris, on the occasion of the World Olympic Day. The idea is to challenge them collectively, offering them the chance to set a world record, as well as to complete the longest relay race on the track in custom cycling. We will have 150 disabled people who will take turns riding the velodrome. Ages range from 8 to 69 with all types of bikes! At the same time, they will have the opportunity to individually challenge themselves with fitness routes of 3 km or 10 km, depending on their abilities, in the Bois de Vincennes.

What advice could you give people with disabilities who want to exercise healthily?

To dare. To attempt. We are here to support you. There are plenty of things out there, even if it’s not necessarily listed or valued enough in sports clubs. There’s plenty of goodwill, so just dare to push out the door and get started!

To know more :

Foundation website:

Interview by Angèle Duplouy