The fitness industry is inaccessible and lacks representation, according to new research.
There are more than 7,200 health and fitness clubs in the UK, but only 68 of these gyms are accessible to disabled people, according to the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI).
‘The fitness industry can be intimidating at the best of times and isn’t always hugely inspiring,’ says MuscleFood in their latest campaign to change the image of health.
‘Currently, there is a lack of representation in the stock imagery it’s associated with – with most showcasing slim, able-bodied, white people, who have bodies that, for many of us, are unobtainable.’
Their ‘new image of health’ seeks to challenge this pre-conceived notion of what it means to be healthy, with the goal to show that health is not a ‘one size fits all concept.’
Disabled people – of which there are 14.6 million in the UK and an estimated one billion worldwide – face a lot of stigma when it comes to fitness, and a study from Scope even found that 1 in 3 see disabled people as less productive than non-disabled people.
‘Disabled people shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens,’ says Imogen, an online fitness coach who has endometriosis.
‘It’s not the disability that hinders a person, it’s the environment, and we as a society need to do more to help our environments become more disability friendly.’
Sophie Butler, a 26-year-old content creator and wheelchair user from London, explains that disabled people deserve access to all spaces.
‘And that access includes access to fitness,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Fitness is currently a very intimidating space. I think most people feel the effects of that, not just disabled people.
‘But that intimidation is made even worse when you have the extra pressure of navigating a place that isn’t accommodating to you.
‘Not only does it make you feel very unwelcome and unappreciated, but there are also physical dangers that come with inaccessibility.’
Sophie explains that this can be broken down into two parts: physical changes and changes in society.
‘Physical changes would be things like having more space between the equipment, so there’s a clearer walkway, investing in machines that are adaptable for wheelchair users, and having better maintenance of things – like ramps, lifts and disabled toilets, which are often left unkempt,’ she explains.
Imogen also notes the importance of making adjustments for neurodivergent people.
‘Quiet zones could be included to help autistic people and those with anxiety and PTSD feel more comfortable in the gym,’ she says.
While this may seem straightforward, the change in societal beliefs and attitudes is much harder to achieve, according to Sophie, who has worked in the fitness space for a number of years.
‘It would involve training our fitness professionals to work with disabled people,’ she says.
‘I trained as a personal trainer, and the coverage of disabled people in the course was so sparse it might as well not have been in there.
‘And it goes beyond learning how to physically train these clients. A lot of people working in the fitness industry still hold ableist views, which consequently makes the fitness space an unsafe and uncomfortable environment for disabled people.
‘Accessibility isn’t just about ramps and lifts. It’s also about attitudes and values.’
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‘Representation is so important because when you live in a marginalised body, it’s hard to see yourself doing something if you’ve never seen it done before,’ Sophie explains.
‘Fitness is exactly the same. If you are constantly being told that disabled people are lazy, don’t work out, and don’t even leave the house (which are all common stereotypes), then, of course, you’re not going to feel the gym is for you.
‘Alternatively, if your only exposure to disabled people in the fitness space is Paralympians, then it’s going to feel incredibly intimidating and unattainable.
‘Disabled people need to be represented at all levels on the spectrum of fitness. From people who casually enjoy working out to those who are champions.’
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