A guest blog by Sam James, winner of the Equality and Diversity Instructor category at the National Community Fitness Awards

Sam, who runs Inclusfit, one of our member organisations, works as a personal trainer and fitness instructor specialising in disability and rehabilitation.  She has mild cerebral palsy which is a physical disability.  As well as teaching specialist classes in special schools, day provisions and charities, Sam teaches a variety of classes each week, both in gyms and in the community, and covers Swindon and the wider Wiltshire area.

Sam tells us that one of the main challenges for disabled people is that they are judged every single day in general life, even though people don’t always know that they are doing it.   This is actually more common in the fitness industry, often because the fear of not knowing what to do makes instructors look like they are not willing to cater for disabled clientele.  This is a big factor that puts a lot of disabled people off from attending fitness classes.

Disabled people are more socially isolated than able bodied people, so a group exercise class is perfect as they are going out and socialising with people they would not normally meet in their daily lives.  They are also getting exercise which most need for physio or weight management.

Group exercise instructors may have limited knowledge unless they deal with disabled people or support workers on a day to day basis.  Sam’s advice is to consider

  • how class participants will be received and how will the instructor handle them turning up.
  • Whether the disabled person may think the class format will not be adaptable to them.
  • How participants can get there, is the venue accessible for them to take part especially if they are a wheelchair user, eg entrance and toilets.
  • If they drive, is there disabled parking at the venue
  • If they need a carer, will they be welcome and if they are there fully assisting will they be let in for free as if not it’s the disabled person that will have to pay for them to take part

Generally group exercise is very accessible and most brands can be adapted depending on how open the instructor is in their approach to being inclusive.  She personally has found Zumba, Beatz, Clubbercise, RockBox and VeraFlow very accessible and adaptable. It’s good to remember that it doesn’t matter exactly how the disabled person is doing the exercises as long as they are moving and having fun.

Any instructors who want to open their classes up to disabled clientele, may wish to follow Sam’s example – ‘Instructors should contact their local disability charities that work with disabled people, offer free demos in them or in day provisions where they may attend or see if there is a disability sport project being run by your local council. I work on my local one and at our multi sports club we have guest instructors in to promote their classes/club to the disabled clientele attending. This is how I have my disabled clients in my community classes.’

Sam says to bear in mind  ‘Some with learning disabilities may just stand there and they look like they not getting much from the class but in fact they are! They getting so much more than you will ever think.’

Any instructors who want to work more closely with participants with disabilities must ensure they have a Level 3 exercise qualification.  There is a CPD course available via the CanDo Hub which ensures that instructors are fully insured to work with disabled clients, including specialist classes in a day provision.

Of Inclusfit, Sam says ‘The name represents what I am about! It basically means inclusive fitness. It started as I wanted a business name that reflected what I was about and passionate about. It has been the best thing I have done and I have been in demand since I rebranded a few years ago. It’s about the ability not the disability.’