Let’s Get Physical

Cooking in the Dark
September 20, 2021

Let’s Get Physical

By Mike Moore

Over the course of my life I have always enjoyed participating in physical activity. I loved playing basketball, cycling, and going to the gym.  There was a recent period of time where I was not sure if that would be possible again, especially going to the gym. Ever since I lost my sight, motivating myself to workout has been challenging to say the least. Some days I would be super motivated, and other days not feeling it at all.  My workouts were inconsistent, and there were months where I did absolutely nothing as it related to physical activity. Although I had a decent home gym setup –  weights, treadmill, resistance bands, etc. – going at it alone, at home, was not working for me.

When I was sighted, I went to my fitness club at least three times a week, where I participated in the classes they offered such as spin and boot camp type classes. I utilized free weights, and I even had a personal trainer. I had gotten myself in decent shape, and that was very good motivation for me. However, with my blindness, I was having difficulty getting myself to the gym – or anywhere else for that matter.  Moreover, I was worried, what would I do once I arrived there? I had not yet learned how to navigate my surroundings, and I was more than apprehensive to start that process trying to figure out the layout of a large fitness club.

Within the first year or so of losing my sight, I did quite a bit of researching, studying, and asking questions, because I needed to get a general idea of what life could look like for me as a blind person. One of the areas of my research that I was particularly interested in was fitness. I wanted to know how people with disabilities, especially the blind and visually impaired folks, participated in physical activity. Specifically, I wanted to find out if anyone was using fitness club facilities, and if so, how were they navigating those surroundings. This was very important to me, because I wanted to get back into the gym, and I had many reasons why I wanted to do so. First and foremost, my fitness level had declined significantly, and I was becoming more sedentary each day. Also, there was the social aspect I was missing. I was not having many opportunities or human interaction, because I spent a large portion of my day in the house alone.

During my research, it became clear that participation in fitness clubs by people with disabilities was seriously lacking. There can be many reasons attributed to why we are not using these types of facilities, but in large part, it comes down to accessibility. In a lot of instances, we are not aware of the resources available to us, and as such, not having access to information is an initial barrier.

But here is the good news for those of us who want to become fitness club members, but are unsure if we will have the type of access we need to the equipment, fitness classes, showers, restrooms etc. The ADA has language that pertains to places of public accommodation, fitness clubs included! Go to the Americans with Disabilities Act Website at: www.ADA.GOV and look under Title 3 to get more information.

I was very excited to see if the gym that I once belonged to, would indeed accommodate me. So, I called and spoke with the manager and explained my situation. She was very excited that I wanted to become a member once again. She also suggested that I come in and meet with her. During my appointment with her, she assured me that they would do everything they could to make my transition back to the gym as successful as possible. When I signed up for my membership, not only did I receive a discounted rate, she offered a free membership to anyone that I designated, if I needed them to accompany me while using the facility. As I began getting back into the groove of being at the gym, I found the staff to be every bit as accommodating as they said they would, and then some!

When I arrive at the gym by bus, a staff member will – the majority of the time – meet me and walk me in to the gym. Once inside the gym, they make sure that, if I am taking a class that day,

walk me over to the room and hand me off to the instructor.  Someone is there to bring me back up front when the class is over. On the days that I use the cardio equipment or weight machines, they will get me set up, and come around periodically to check on me. It is an awesome feeling to be able to get back in gym and have so much support from the staff. Another cool thing is how the other members treat me.  When they see me, they will come up and talk with me, I have worked out with some of them, and I have even been invited to BBQs by some of the folks that I have met there. I am just over the moon on how accessible things are. I have not had any issues with accessing classes I wanted to attend or accessing weight equipment I wanted to use. In fact, things are going so well, I have yet to take advantage of the free membership they offered for a designated person to come to the gym with me.

So, if you are blind or visually impaired, or have any other type of disability, and you want to get back to the gym or start going to the gym, I would encourage you to go! Once you choose your gym, you can meet with management and discuss goals, what type of access and accommodations you would need. I would recommend that you inquire about access to their cardio equipment. Because most, if not all, of the new cardio equipment is digital, thus making it extremely challenging to access if you are blind or visually impaired. There will need to be some tactile markers placed on the panel.  After a quick training on what each button does, you’ll likely be on your way. Meeting with gym staff helped me tremendously, and I am confident that it will benefit you as well. So, come on, let’s get out there and get fit, get social, get back into the game! We owe it to ourselves!