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Disabled people are frequently excluded from the fitness industry

National spinal injury charity Aspire and the University of Birmingham have teamed up on a research project that is set to produce evidence-based Best Practice Guidance for training and employing disabled people in the fitness industry.

Disabled people are frequently excluded from this industry but building on the success of the Aspire Leisure Centre, which has led the way as an inclusive community leisure facility, the charity’s InstructAbility programme was set up to enhance inclusion across the wider sector.

InstructAbility is the only initiative that has focused on disabled people’s career progression and has now deployed over 300 disabled fitness professionals into voluntary and paid positions within hundreds of leisure facilities across the country. The longer-term vision of InstructAbility is to influence the sector to the extent that programmes such as theirs will no longer be necessary.

Funded by Sport England, the new collaborative research project conducted by the University of Birmingham will be the first to produce guidance on how best to train and employ disabled people in the fitness industry.

To ensure these guidelines are evidence-based, it will track current InstructAbility students and past graduates through their journeys. It will also uniquely investigate the views about disability and the leisure industry held by a wide range of industry stakeholders, including training providers, awarding organisations and employers.

Dr Juliette Stebbings and Professor Brett Smith from the University of Birmingham’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, are leading the research and hope the findings will lead to changes in current policy.

Professor Brett Smith, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, said: “The initial research findings will be presented early next year with the publication and dissemination of the Best Practice Guidelines due by the end of 2018.

“The next phase will be to monitor the adoption of the guidelines across the sector. We hope that the results of our research will lead to disability and wider sector organisations working together to develop a systematic and comprehensive approach to making change in the industry.”

It is hoped that the fitness industry becomes more inclusive in two important ways. First, that greater numbers of disabled people are employed at leisure and fitness facilities, and second, that disabled people are given further encouragement and more choice in how to be physically active.

InstructAbility Programme Manager Hilary Farmiloe, said: “We have gained enormous insight from running the InstructAbility programme so far, but we need to adopt a rigorous scientific approach to capturing the learnings so we can share this with the wider industry.

“Collectively we need to develop a sector in which disabled people feel confident and valued as employees, and where they can trust that training and professional development will be as equally accessible to them as their non-disabled peers. This will attract more disabled people to work in the industry and thus bring down barriers for customers and staff alike.”

For more information or to arrange interviews contact Emma McKinney, Communications Manager (Health Sciences), University of Birmingham, tel: +44 (0) 121 414 6681. For out of hours enquiries please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • InstructAbility is managed by Aspire and funded by National Lottery via Sport England. The programme offers disabled people free gym instructor training and an industry work placement. The aim is to support disabled people into a fitness career where they can promote inclusive policy and practice within the industry, and encourage other disabled people to access leisure facilities and enjoy an active lifestyle. 
  • The Aspire Leisure Centre was the first fully integrated community leisure facility in Europe for disabled and non-disabled people. A third of members are disabled, as are a significant number of staff. ALC is approved by the Inclusive Fitness Initiative and has gained Quest (UK Quality Scheme for Sport and Leisure) registration as 'Excellent'.
  • Aspire is a leading national charity that provides practical help to people who have been paralysed by spinal cord injuries. For more information, visit Registered Charity Number 1075317. Scottish Registered Charity Number SC037482. Registered Company Number 3744357. Association for Spinal Injury Research, Rehabilitation and Reintegration.