I came across an old photograph from 1979. In the picture, I am lying across a therapy ball that is about four times my size. My Dad is swaying me back and forth on the ball, performing my nightly stretching exercises. The exercises were designed to keep my leg muscles loose and pliable.
When I look at that picture, I see a happy kid not yet overwhelmed by notions of disparity, difference, or concepts of disability. In that picture the concepts of etiology (causes of a condition), diagnosis, and disease were foreign to me. I was just “exercising” and hanging out with my Dad.
While all of these medical –oriented notions like etiology have their place, I am frequently reminded of the incongruence of these concepts and the idea that people come first, especially in program design and implementation. A recent session with my trainer brought the “people factor” notably back into focus for me.
My trainer asked one of his colleagues to work with their client in another location of the fitness center. The room that we would be working in was warmer. My trainer knew my muscles would be more pliable and would respond better in the warmer temperature.
They also knew that I would be less distracted from the music playing on the main floor coupled with the bustle of other the patrons. The request to have their colleague move locations gave me the space, quiet, and poise to work through the new nuances of my routine.
My trainer once said “People are my business”.
What does that mean in practice? My trainer is aware of factors which impact my performance outside my diagnosis and the etiology of my disability. They make specific efforts to remove elements such as cold, restricted space, and distraction which might impact and complicate my participation, movement, or access.
The introduction of more space and quiet space assists me if I respond unexpectedly to a new exercise method (e.g. have a limb go spastic, rigid, or spasm). The extra space can also remove feelings of self-consciousness and the sense of spectacle that can result if a lot of people are around and something goes awry while implementing an exercise.
The “people factor” as described here infuses consideration, dignity, and respect of an individual into the formation and implementation of a health, fitness, or exercise plan. In our existing health and disability fields, people not diagnosis in my view, should be our first and most important business.
This article was originally published on March 14, 2012, in the “Endless CapABILITIES Blog”, and National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, sponsored by The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (www.nchpad.org). NCHPAD is part of the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative and supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59DD000906 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).