The recent British success at the Paralympics thrust a spotlight onto the excellence achievable through disability sport, yet it seems many gyms are still largely inaccessible to people with disabilities.
With poor access to buildings and facilities, many sport and leisure centers across the country are failing to consider the needs of many people who would otherwise use the opportunity to exercise, get fit and improve their mobility.
Funding cuts have not helped the situation, especially with local authority leisure centers which don’t have the money necessary to upgrade equipment and improve the often problematic building access.
With many older buildings in existence, some are lacking simple things like wide doors, working lifts, and ramps at a very basic level. Others have inaccessible changing rooms or equipment which has been designed primarily for able-bodied customers.
Gym equipment like treadmills and cross trainers are very rarely modified and can be completely useless to many people with disabilities, meaning the options are very limited.
Another area of concern is the steep price of gym membership and with plans to cut Disability Living Allowance, many people are being denied the opportunity to improve their health and excel at a sporting activity, due to lack of funds.
Of course, there are many other barriers in place which prevent disabled people from fully participating in sport and exercise and it’s up to society as a whole to ensure that attitudes change to accommodate a fair system for everyone.
What could be done?
All new buildings should be planned well and with strict adherence to current legislation to ensure they have ramps, lifts, and automatic doors so everyone can use them easily. Another consideration should be additional equipment low-level desks and grab rails.
Then there needs to be the option of support available to people not only with physical disabilities but also with sight or hearing difficulties as well as those with mental disabilities. Brail is rarely seen at gyms and this is just one area that could be improved upon.
Modern gyms could include access to disability aids wherever possible to ensure disabled clients have improved opportunities to use the equipment effectively. Many swimming pools lack lifting equipment like hoists to help people with physical disabilities to enter the water, yet this could be easily rectified.
Another helpful measure would be for gym staff to receive better training when it comes to supporting every sector of society to use the facilities. They need to have an inclusive approach and an informed awareness of those with additional needs.
Whether it is to have specially trained staff on hand to support disabled gym-goers, or to seek the views of clients with a range of requirements, the staff involved can make a difference to the way clients feel and are treated.
By catering for and welcoming clients with disabilities, we could see a positive and long-lasting impact of the recent Paralympic games, resulting in improved opportunities for everyone to access sport in the future.