Guide Dogs in Fitness Facilities
Typically, during a workout, guide dogs need to be near their owners and have them in their field of vision at all times. Some facilities have "holding areas," which are specific areas that members can tie down their dogs while working out. Other facilities allow members to move their dogs with them from machine to machine. It is important that members with service dogs are aware of the space that their dogs require, as well as the placement of the dogs in relationship to the other members trying to work out in the facility. In a class setting, such as a yoga class, a member would have his/her dog lay down next to his/her yoga mat so as not to be in the way of the other members.
In addition to having an assistance dog, many members with visual impairments may bring a helper or assistant with them to aid in their workout program. Some facilities may offer a discounted membership rate for members who bring their own assistants, as this alleviates the strain on the facility of hiring more staff.
To encourage more independence on the part of members with visual impairments, some facilities will employ the use of bump dots (plastic dots with adhesive on the back that can be applied to anything in need of marking) on the start and stop, up/down, and faster/slower buttons of specific pieces of cardiovascular equipment. With a guide dog and bump dots, many members can navigate their way to a specific piece of equipment and proceed with their cardiovascular exercise.
When a person with a visual impairment wants to use the strength-training machines in a facility, they may need the help of a trainer or friend. Braille labels can be used to identify the name and function of each piece of equipment; however, to adjust the weight stacks and modify the moving parts of the particular machine, another person is generally needed. It is important to realize that many people who are visually impaired do not read Braille - especially those with acquired visual disabilities that were diagnosed in adulthood.
Choosing a slower time of day at the fitness facility can also be helpful for members with visual impairments. When the facility is less busy, fewer people will be trying to utilize the machines and equipment. This can be a beneficial environment for a member who is learning to navigate through the facility.
It is important for a fitness facility to coach their fitness instructors on how to teach classes to individuals with visual impairments. Fitness instructors will need to learn how to use "verbal cuing," describing in detail to the class, instead of simply demonstrating with their own bodies. This can be especially challenging in a class such as yoga, where many of the participants rely so heavily on visual cuing to be successful.