I remember sitting in the cafeteria of my first ever job in London.
I’d moved down from a quintessentially Northern, rural town to pursue the bright lights and see what the capital had to offer.
As I sat nibbling on my peanut butter sandwich, I asked the lady opposite what she was eating.
‘It’s a kale and quinoa salad.’
‘Yummy,’ I replied as I frantically Googled what the heck kale and quinoa was.
It soon became apparent that healthy living was a big part of people’s lives here.
I’d never seen so many gyms; there was one on every corner and it felt like everyone went to pilates, yoga and spinning classes after work, instead of the pub for a cheeky pint.
I had a bad case of FOMO and I wanted in.
I wanted the goddess body, to slurp on green juices and to meet new friends at all the classes I was going to join.
In all honesty, I’d been thinking more and more about my health and wellbeing for some time. The success of the 2012 Paralympics really changed my mindset on what my body was capable of.
It was the first time I’d seen people like me on the television challenging their bodies and smashing perceptions.
Social media had also played its part and I was guilty of posting the odd bowl of berries and low fat Greek yoghurt on Instagram from time to time.
But I wanted to do more than a pretentious post featuring a bowl of fruit. I wanted to get fit and feel a part of the leisure culture.
Yet, for many disabled people, going to facilities like gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres can be a daunting task, which means they swerve going altogether.
When I teamed up with Channel 4 recently on their latest series How To Beat Ageing, we explored exactly how the fitness industry treats people with disabilities and outlined the main barriers we face.
Exclusive research from the show highlighted a lack of physical provisions such as user-friendly equipment, adequate parking facilities, accessible changing rooms and staff training.
We asked a variety of people with varied impairments to share their own stories and experiences of accessing high street gyms and leisure facilities. When asked whether gyms/leisure centres are a welcoming place for disabled people, 81 per cent answered that they weren’t.
Eighty-seven per cent of respondents thought the way disabled and non-disabled people are treated in gyms and leisure centres is unequal and shocking, while nine out of 10 felt that staff didn’t have adequate inclusion training. On top of that, 80 per cent would like to see more disabled fitness instructors.
Then there is the practical side of things: 78 per cent said gyms and leisure centres didn’t have accessible equipment and 62 per cent felt that they couldn’t join such places, as they’re simply not set up for them.
When you look at posters for gyms, do you see disabled people exercising on them? Probably not. It gives off the message that only a certain sort of person can access these facilities.
I’ve had gym promo flyer distributors blatantly ignore me and not give me a leaflet because of my disability. Although this was a small ableist action it hurt. ‘Hello!’ I wanted to scream, ‘have you forgotten me?’
It was just another reminder of how excluded disabled people are.
Most of my local gyms are in a basement so are a definite no go and my closest inclusive leisure facility is over an hour away, which is an issue because I cannot use public transport independently.
The cost of getting a taxi there and back as well as paying to use the facilities have been my biggest reasons not to go.
As someone with a disability, I’m already excluded from so many mainstream activities; going for drinks or a meal with friends can be a challenge with many establishments not even providing accessible bathroom facilities.
I even struggle getting to the end of my road because there is no drop curb in place, so gyms are just another form of social exclusion.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could pop to my local leisure facility and go swimming as often as I’d like?
I’ve noticed it especially when it comes to dating. I’ve often felt that not being able to go to the gym with a partner has been a bit of a deal-breaker when online dating.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to date anyone who cast me aside purely because I wasn’t a gym fanatic – but I’d like to have the option.
A serious side effect of how unwelcoming these spaces are is the pressure it is placing on the NHS. Better inclusive health facilities could help support our already over-stretched health service.
But the NHS itself is also complicit in disabled people’s inability to start up and maintain regular exercise. It’s commonplace to have hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and treatments provided when you have a disability – up until the age of 18.
I had weekly hydrotherapy sessions; I remember them clearly as they clashed with my maths class and I loved being able to skip it. As soon as I turned 18, they stopped overnight.
It took me just over 16 years to resume some much needed hydrotherapy on the NHS to alleviate my chronic pain, yet my sessions only lasted for eight weeks and I was advised by the hospital to find a local public swimming pool to continue.
I’m still searching for a pool that can facilitate my needs.
I was truly feeling the benefits of regular hydrotherapy, with a decrease in pain, higher energy levels and my mental health improved, I felt motivated by swimming. I even stood up for the first time in over 20 years.
I can honestly say, as quickly as I regained my confidence, agility and strength, it was gone. The stiffness and aches have come back.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could pop to my local leisure facility and go swimming as often as I’d like? This would not only benefit me holistically, but also allow me to socialise more.
Aside from the impact making gyms and leisure centres more welcoming would have on disabled people, they are really missing out on a trick when it comes to the disability market.
Disabled people and our families have a spending power of £249billion in the UK – known as the ‘purple pound’ – and the fitness industry should be engaging and investing in people like me if they want to benefit from it.
Ultimately, these facilities really should be going above and beyond the minimum requirement and to ensure that they deliver a user friendly, inclusive environment for disabled gym-goers.
I’ve taken matters into my own hands and bought some weights, a yoga mat and some resistant bands to create my own gym in my front room.
I’ve recognised the importance and benefits of maintaining my wellbeing and keeping fit so it’s essential I find a way.
I do, however, feel saddened that I will be missing out on the social interactions and the feeling of being part of a group – something I won’t be able to achieve in my living room.
How to Beat Ageing airs on Channel 4 on 12 March at 8pm
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
Source: Read Full Article