When Ali Brian, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education at the University of South Carolina's College of Education, first arrived, there was only one course in adapted physical education.
"Of course, I get here and, for me, that's not enough; if you want to change dispositions, well, then you have to have the experiences," Brian said.
Now, six years and numerous awards later, including one of "international scope," USC offers an entire Master of Science in adapted physical education, which Brian founded and coordinates. Furthermore, outside of USC, Brian, alongside her colleague Dr. Lauren Lieberman, a professor at SUNY Brockport, leads and works with many camps that help children with disabilities, specifically with children who are visually impaired.
“Our field is in adapted physical education. Basically, it’s physical education for children with disabilities,” Lieberman said.
Through the camps and programs that Lieberman and Brian work with and lead, research is collected on better ways to teach kids with visual impairments. From that research, they produce tip sheets, videos, books and other products that educate instructors on how to better teach children with disabilities.
“What people don’t know is that it’s not the visual impairment that holds people back. It’s the lack of opportunities,” Lieberman said.
Brian said there are instances where children have not received the correct education due to a lack of training, awareness or confidence in handling children with disabilities.
"I firmly believe all students can learn, and every child has the right to a free and appropriate education, and sometimes my experiences showed me that that wasn't always the case," Brian said. "I wanted to be a change for that."
Brian, who hasher Ph.D. in kinesiology with an emphasis in adapted physical education and motor development, primarily teaches motor behavior, which focuses on how children learn motor skills and how teachers can support learning and development.
Brian also teaches undergraduate students.
"When they start our program, they look one way, and by the time they graduate, they're these amazing, ready-to-hit-the-ground-running, inspired, future or soon-to-be current teachers, and that's pretty exciting," Brian said.
In addition to her work as an undergraduate instructor, Brian also advises many doctoral students.
"Seeing them grow from new to concepts of research to being able to leave here and conduct an independent inquiry and create their own program — that's really rewarding," Brian said.
Brian also co-directs programs similar to Lieberman's that work with people with disabilities, primarily children, and focus on the “motor domain,” which encompasses physical activities, balance, interventions and other types of movement with her colleague Pamela Beach, a professor at SUNY Brockport.
Through the programs, children perform assessments and learn skills to help with their disabilities. Exposing the children to new opportunities and new activities is also a large part of the programs.
"It might just simply be that they haven't been exposed to something," Beach said. "There's a lot of sheltering."
Beach said there is a need for more specific training for people that work with people with visual impairments and the need to stop sheltering those with disabilities.
“To have a healthy and meaningful life, it's hard if you're never really engaged," Beach said. "We want these kids to have as full of lives as possible."
Brian has received numerous awards, including the Early Career Distinguished Scholar Award from the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport, which she earned in 2020.
"I'm really proud of it because it has an international scope," Brian said.
After the multiple honors and achievements, however, Brian said what she really loves about her job in teaching is seeing students learn and evolve.
"I really do love seeing that a-ha moment," Brian said.
Correction (Jan. 20, 2021, at 1:41 a.m.): A previous version of this article misattributed statements from Lauren Lieberman of SUNY Brockport.