Physical and intellectual disabilities affect every group of people from various socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, religion, and gender. Yet, the disabled are consistently left behind in the health and wellness industry. The barriers to entry and participation for this community include transport difficulties, lack of knowledge to resources and aides, substandard community facilities, and low expectations from peers. Fitness studios facilitate people to achieve long-term, sustainable health goals. While most facilities unconsciously market and tailor their services to able-bodied people they should focus on providing accommodations that are accessible to this population.
Make adjustments to your existing environment
As a studio owner, you should take a moment to tour your facility and examine potential pain points for disabled members. Take extra measures to create a welcoming environment and inclusive experience for all. Ensure your studio announcements are made both audibly and written on a screen or message board. Does the spacing between equipment and throughways provide enough room for someone in a wheelchair or on crutches? Is your equipment wheelchair friendly? Is your gym floor safe to navigate for a person who is blind? If you have any doubts, consider rearranging equipment to ensure your club is a safe space. In addition, some disabled members require additional aid, so consider allowing caregivers to be present without incurring an additional charge.
You should also make sure your club complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Research the specific requirements of the act then commission an audit by compliance experts to ensure that your club meets all of the act’s requirements and stipulations. Devise a plan to help your club remain fully compliant based on the inspection results. Additionally, in a classroom setting, guide your staff and instructors to demonstrate various ways to perform exercises and present modifications as valid options, it makes the classes far more accessible. It behooves you to acknowledge and respect that students within the same class may have different needs and skillsets. It’s also a plus to foster a community of inclusion with people of varying needs and skill levels taking a class or working out together.
Follow the golden rule, do not assume a person with a disability needs or wants your help. Instead, let them know, as you would with any member, that you and your staff are available for assistance. Take a step back and observe your club from their perspective and be on the alert for barriers. At the end of the day, you should ensure all members feel comfortable and fit in. Train your staff to avoid prying details from a member about their disability; they will initiate the conversation if they wish to talk about it. Always exercise positivity and stay committed to maintaining a high standard of customer service for your members.
Separate exercise from weight loss
As club owners, we understand the multitude of health benefits that accompany regular physical activity. Studies show frequent exercise can have very positive effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, build muscle and bone strength, and help in maintaining and improving cognitive function. It’s often an integral part of rehabilitation programs for various mental and physical ailments. Exercise releases endorphins that can help develop self-confidence and reduce stress. At the same time, equating fitness primarily with weight loss can easily alienate participants, especially those who are targeted for their weight outside of the gym, have disabilities or illnesses that have impacted their weight or metabolism, or have struggled with an eating disorder. Keep in mind, someone who visits your club may not be there to lose weight as an end goal.
Improve financial and logistical accessibility
Joining a club or gym can be costly, and is usually an expense that is out of reach for many with disabilities or chronic illness, who may be on fixed incomes and spending most of it on healthcare expenses. Your studio could offer reduced monthly membership fees or waive the initiation fee that hinders many from committing to a gym.
We’re seeing a trend of free or low-cost exercise programs in many North American cities. Local parks have installed free fitness circuits and equipment in addition to walking, dancing and running meet-up social groups. In addition, many folks can drop-in to a fitness class to have the flexibility to pay as they go. However, the disabled community would benefit from having access to more adaptive or low-impact classes. Furthermore, when these adaptive classes are available to the public, they’re often during the day, which makes it difficult for the working disabled to attend. The joy of physical activity should be available to all. How can you make your studio more financially and logistically accessible?
Special needs programs and accommodations for the disabled community should minimize barriers within your club. If you haven’t already, take the necessary steps to make equipment and mobility more accessible. Understanding and addressing the needs of people with disabilities will positively impact your bottom line while changing the lives of your members for the better.