Cape Town – Through an eight-week programme focused on physical activity, Doctor Candace Vermaak has been able to restore a certain degree of independence to individuals suffering from spinal cord injuries."Some participants said the sessions helped them to be more mobile. They were also more satisfied with their ability to reintegrate into their respective communities," Vermaak said in a statement issued by Stellenbosch University. In most cases individuals suffering from spinal cord injuries are confined to wheelchairs and usually need help to perform certain daily activities, such as the transfer to and from wheelchairs.The programme Vermaak developed forms part of her doctorate in sports science at the university.There are 16 participants, one woman and 15 men between the ages of 19 and 53 from areas including Mitchells Plain, Strand and Macassar.During two weekly sessions of 90 minutes each, participants take part in a cardiovascular warm up, followed by strength training and functional activities, such as weight shifting and balance training. They end the session with stretching. Overcoming barriersVermaak says she has seen major improvement in the lives of participants following the programme. "Because of these activities, participants improved their cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility. They were able to push their wheelchairs further and also found it easier to perform normal daily activities and do more on their own. "They required less assistance with transfers to and from their wheelchairs and were able to eat and dress themselves more independently due to improved strength and flexibility," Vermaak said. She said participants had to overcome several barriers to take part in the programme. These included pressure sores, bladder infections, a lack of finance and knowledge about physical activity and the risks associated with inactivity."They also had to overcome social barriers such as a lack of support from friends and family as well as negative societal attitudes toward people with disabilities. Some participants were rejected by their friends and family once they got injured," Vermaak said. The doctor, who is also the director of Bridging Abilities, a non-profit organisation in Stellenbosch specialising in empowering people with disabilities through sports, says there are plans to expand the programme in 2017. "We are currently training other people with disabilities and volunteers to implement two more programmes in 2017 in the Winelands district [in] Kayamandi [and] Cloetesville and possibly Franschhoek," Vermaak said.