Inclusive Fitness Coalition Will Open Doors for People with Disabilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, people with disabilities experience many different and complex physical, social, and attitudinal barriers that prevent their participation in work, leisure, and social activities. Going to a health club can be a very unpleasant experience for many people with physical, cognitive, and sensory disabilities. Front-line staff don't have much experience interacting with people who use wheelchairs and rarely know what is and isn't accessible in their facility. People with cognitive disabilities often have a difficult time finding programs and services that are affordable, or that provide enough assistance using certain types of equipment or following instructions in a group exercise class. Most fitness instructors are taught to work with people who fall into a very narrow range of physical and cognitive function, and when someone falls out of this range, the instructor is left to his or her own devices to make it right for the paying customer.
The 54 million people in this nation with disabilities, and an additional 50 million or so with chronic health conditions who could benefit greatly from the resources and expertise found in health clubs and fitness centers, seldom if ever use these facilities. Sadly, the industry continues to focus their resources on the "young and restless" crowd who supposedly have greater financial resources and are more conscientious about their weight and looks (as if no one with a disability or health condition is interested in the same outcome!).
The old cigarette commercial, "We've come a long way, baby," is perhaps a fitting place to begin a launch that occurred on January 24 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, cosponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability. On this historic day, two major organizations -- one fitness and one disability -- began a long-term commitment to promoting "inclusive fitness" among a broader community of citizens that includes people with disabilities and people with various activity limitations and chronic health conditions that typically do not consider themselves disabled yet have similar needs as the disability community. It's time to reach across American homes where people with Alzheimer's, intellectual/developmental disabilities, autism, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, mental illness, stroke, head injury, severe depression, obesity, diabetes, and others are waiting to embrace the concept of health and fitness and promote their own health. We can no longer be considered an industry that withholds treatment to people of all ages and disabilities.
There's an old story that seems to fit well with the way fitness centers currently recruit new members:
A woman approaches a young man who has lost his keys. She asks if he needs help finding them and he replies, "yes." As they search for the keys, she asks: "Where do you think you lost them?" Surprisingly, he points across the street from where they are standing. With a baffled look she asks, "If you lost them across the street, why are we looking over here?" He responds, "Because the light is much better on this side of the street."
The new Inclusive Fitness Coalition (www.incfit.org) will help guide the fitness industry in recruiting new members not under the light, but rather, in places where 54 million people with disabilities and millions of others with chronic health conditions are waiting to be heard and eager to become more active in health promotion and fitness.