It is rare to see a member with a disability at my gym. However, after seeing a person with an impairment, I had a lot of questions for fitness facilities. Specifically, how are they accommodating gym members with disabilities? So, I spoke to the manager at my gym. He has kindly shared what he has come across during his employment.
Accommodating Gym Members with Disabilities: An Interview
How many members who have a physical impairment come to the gym often?
I don’t have an exact number for our company, but I would say about 3% of the members nationwide have a disability. The types of disabilities range from Down syndrome to mobility impairments. I would say about five members who come to my location have a disability.
Does your gym offer specialized equipment to members with physical impairments?
Every location offers a range of machines that are accessible. For example, cross cable machines can be adjusted to different heights. As a result, these machines can accommodate people who have a mobility impairment.
Every gym has an ergometer, also known as an arm bike. Arm bikes provide the same cardio workout as working out on a treadmill. Though this type of machine looks like it is not accessible, the seat can be adjusted or removed.
Even though free weights are not seen as specialized, free weights can be used with little to no restrictions in a variety of motions that strengthen your muscles.
What type of services do your trainers offer gym members with disabilities?
Our trainers offer sessions called fitness starters. A trainer will meet with the member to find out what their goals are. Subsequently, the trainer will show what workouts will lead to results and how to use the equipment.
The trainers in group classes will talk to everyone in the class. Trainers will ask about injuries and if the member is new to the class. The trainers will also tailor workouts for not only body types, but also impairments. Trainers give cues during the class so people can modify their workouts.
What barriers have you encountered in accommodating people with impairments?
The biggest barrier is not having enough information about disabilities. The lack of information limits our ability to do our jobs to the best we can.
What has been your best moment in regard to accessibility?
The best moments are when you can successfully assist someone with an impairment. To see that a member is comfortable and confident in our facility is inspiring. It is always a good feeling to know that members have a safe place to come, have fun, and work hard.
Can you tell me about a time when you witnessed a gym member with a disability overcome a barrier?
I have never seen anything myself. However, when one of my workers was at the front desk, she saw a member with a mobility impairment wandering the gym. He seemed to be nervous. She approached him and asked if there was anything she could help with. He admitted he did not know where he should start. She gave him a tour around the gym and showed him how the equipment could be altered to his needs. She then set him up with a drill that had intervals on the arm bike, battle ropes, dumbbells, and cable cross machines. Since this event, the member confidently works out at our location often.
Accessibility is More Than Just Providing Equipment
Overall, workers do what they can to accommodate accessibility at the gym. That said, workplaces still need to offer more training on disabilities. Workers need to know how they can go above and beyond to accommodate gym members with disabilities.
Gyms need to think beyond physical disabilities, especially when it comes to equipment. For instance, machines and dumbbells can be labeled with Braille or large print for people who are blind or have a vision impairment. Perhaps gyms can offer a quieter area for people with invisible disabilities who can get overstimulated. Aside from equipment, gyms need to think of other accessible features in their buildings, such as:
- Wide doorways and automatic doors
- Easy routes between places like:
- the entrance
- the area where members scan their IDs
- The change rooms
- The equipment
- Signage in large print and Braille
Every gym has the potential to be accessible, and everyone should have an equal opportunity to be active and healthy.