Monday, December 5, 2011
Accessible Gyms and Adaptive Fitness - A Ticket to Greater Adventure
South Shore YMCA in Quincy, which pro-actively offers state-of-the-art accessible cardio and strength training equipment and a partnership program that matches individuals with disabilities with a strength trainer and workout buddy. Inside that facility, you might see eight people in wheelchairs working out at any given time. Even a single fitness center can offer an integrated setting that appeals to people with disabilities - Fit Together in Hadley is run by ServiceNet to address the needs of people with developmental disabilities and emotional challenges and is open to everyone. TheraFit Gym in Maryland
offers health building to people with severe physical and cognitive impairments. Pro-active accessible gyms are out there!
An on-line search reveals a portable exercise machine called Wheelchair Gym that can be used by seniors, people with spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and other disabilities for easier access to upper body exercise. The Theracycle is designed to help users improve their leg function. The Quadraciser is a motorized therapy system that helps passive users simulate walking movement - upright, lying down, or in between - and active users to improve limb mobility and strength. Equalizer Exercise Machines make single purpose equipment and stations designed to accommodate multiple users with and without disabilities.
Choices can be made when purchasing fitness machines and modifications can be made to conventional equipment for better access. Machines designed with seats that swing out and allow for wheelchair users to access the machines in the same way as ambulatory users is a great example of universal design. Extra belts can be added to some conventional machines to prevent falling off for those with compromised function that would impair balance or stability.
Disaboom, many gyms often do not have staff trained specifically to work with people with disabilities, who represent a wide array of function and limitation not conventionally taught in fitness trainer programs, although this is beginning to change. Some fitness training certificate programs are including disability exercise training now. Physical therapists are also ideal experts who can help make modifications to exercise routines. Personal care attendants can assist with transfers and engage weights to a comfortable starting point. Adaptive fitness can include a wide variety of practices including yoga, tai chi and Pilates, but how many fitness centers make these popular classes fully accessible, welcome individuals with disabilities, and integrate them with appropriate expertise?
Some commercial fitness chains have begun to address accessibility on a broad scale. Gold's Gym consults with people with disabilities to improve their gyms and 24 Hour Fitness provides elevators (not usually required on buildings 2 stories tall) and allows workout support companions free admission. All this and yet a quick look at their websites reveals nothing about accessibility! 24 Hour Fitness also supports Paralympic athletes heading to London in 2012 by providing state-of-the-art equipment and expertise at training centers in Colorado, California and New York.
I would love to know what the experts have to say about how to support and improve the relative fitness of those who cannot exercise, something I've been wondering about for awhile. It seems that some of the benefits of exercise (circulation, detoxification, accelerated heart rate, muscle stimulation, and endorphin release) can be gained through the use of saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs; bodywork; and the experience of movement and speed. The spa elements of fitness centers should definitely be accessible to all.