Why Can't People with Disabilities Go to Just Any Gym?

Individuals with disabilities frequently endure other health issues related to their disability, such as secondary and associated conditions (Green, 2012). Secondary conditions are complications that occur as a result of a disease or disability such as obesity, hypertension, and deconditioning.

Associated conditions are complications that exist alongside a disability such as spasticity, seizures, and thermoregulatory issues. When these secondary and associated conditions overlay, it becomes a significant concern for people with disabilities and their capacity to live independently as well as maintain their connection to society.

While regular physical activity has the potential to offset some of these concerns, there are multiple barriers that people with disabilities must overcome to lead healthy, active lifestyles. The most common barriers reported by Jennifer N. Green M.S., staff liaison for the Inclusive Fitness Coalition, are the cost of fitness center memberships, lack of transportation, lack of accessible exercise equipment, and the perception that fitness facilities are unfriendly environments for those who stray from the visual "norm" of what many consider a typical fitness facility patron (2012).

In addition, there tends to be a lack of knowledge and awareness within "traditional" fitness facilities when it comes to developing effective fitness plans for people with disabilities. There are many common associative conditions that are imperative for personal trainers to understand. For example, atlantoaxial instability (AAI) is a condition characterized by excessive movement at the C1 and C2 vertebrae and is seen in 13-14% of people who have down syndrome (Bernhardt-Bainbridge, 2012). It takes knowledge of the pathophysiology and specific background of the condition for a fitness professional to create safe and effective fitness plans that do not strain the neck. Thermoregulation issues and blunted heart rate are also very common conditions associated with many disabilities. Understanding these and other associated conditions, in addition to gauging the level exertion of an individual, is essential for the safety of both the individual receiving services and personal trainer.

Furthermore, there are individuals with disabilities who cannot even access a gym safely due to associated conditions of their disability. Consider individuals with spin bifida who are at the highest risk for latex allergies (Mayo Clinic, 2017). This condition prevents them from joining "just any gym" for their basic safety. There may even be people with spina bifida who are not aware they have it (Ostertag and Blair, 2012)! Therefore, the creation of an inclusive fitness facility with knowledgeable staff is far and few between.

The SHAPE program at CHOICE Inc. strives to diminish the common barriers listed above. By providing our participants with a fully inclusive gym and knowledgeable inclusive fitness staff at no extra cost, and is accessible at all times during program is paramount to the success and happiness of our participants.


About the Author: Sydni Andruskiewicz is a SHAPE Fitness Instructor at CHOICE, Inc. She holds a bachelor's degree in Integrated Health Sciences, is an ACSM certified personal trainer and NCHPAD certified inclusive fitness trainer. 




Bernhardt-Bainbridge, D. (2012). Cognitive disabilities. In C. Wing (Ed.) ACSM/NCHPAD resources for the inclusive fitness trainer (pp. 155). Indianapolis, IN: American College of Sports Medicine
Green, J. (2012) Need for certified inclusive fitness trainers. In C. Wing (Ed.) ACSM/NCHPAD resources for the inclusive fitness trainer (pp. 10-17). Indianapolis, IN: American College of Sports Medicine
Latex allergy. (2017). In Mayo Clinic online. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/latex-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20374287
Ostertag, S., & Blair, M. (2012). Spinal cord lesions. In C. Wing (Ed.) ACSM/NCHPAD resources for the inclusive fitness trainer (pp. 124). Indianapolis, IN: American college of sports medicine