I have read too many articles that feature a story about an individual with a disability who has not been served or who has been turned away from a gym or some other public facility because staff did not know how to provide for or accommodate the need of the individual. For the purposes of this article, accommodation is defined as “adjustments or modifications that enable an individual with a disability or various disabilities to fully participate.” 1.
Recently, I read an article called “Woonsocket Gym manager’s feat of kindness goes viral”. The article relayed a story about a man with a disability named Wagner. Wagner was going to work out with a family member at a local gym in Rhode Island. He had worn boots instead of sneakers. Because of the improper footwear, the pair was going to leave the facility early. The gym manager learned that Wagner had forgotten his sneakers. In response, he sent other staff from the gym to the nearby sports store to purchase a pair of sneakers for Wagner.
The story is certainly a feel-good story. However, the article got me thinking again about disability, disability awareness, accommodation, and competency. Our Health, Disability, Fitness, and many other fields need to promote a different framework and mindset related to disability, disability awareness, accommodation, inclusion and participation.
Training on the topic of disability and disability awareness needs to broaden beyond the characteristics of various disabilities and developing disability awareness and sensitivity. The framework needs to evolve to a scheme that addresses accommodation in practical terms. This includes teaching professionals to provide a range of adjustments and modifications in a practical way that allow an individual with a disability to fully participate with their peers in a gym or other similar setting.
Professionals need to learn what I will call disability competencies such as effectively communicating with people with disabilities, understanding the needs of people with disabilities, and identifying and effectively using a range of strategies to accommodate individual needs.
When I researched this topic and elements of disability awareness training, literature identifies specific stages of training. Stage one of training includes “exposure” and introducing information about various disabilities or disability characteristics.
Stage two includes experiential learning which consists of direct interactions with individuals with disabilities. The interaction includes an assessment of what a person with a disability needs. The individual and professional work together to identify the accommodation or accommodations that will allow the individual to fully participate.
An example of an accommodation might include providing a chair so that a person can participate while seated. The overall goal is to make information, materials, and equipment accessible and usable for the person to participate.
Stage three includes the strategy or implementation phase. From an assessment, for example, a professional might identify that a person with a disability needs a sticky mat to help maintain their body alignment and posture. The professional would select the appropriate sticky mat based upon the thickness of the mat, the texture of the mat, and the level of stickiness of the mat.
Ownership is the culmination of exposure, experiential learning, the assessment, and application of the accommodation. In the proposed framework, the professional “owns” the problem-solving process by working directly with the individual and ensuing the identified accommodation is successful. That is, from the accommodation provided, the individual with a disability is able to participate effectively with their peers.
In the expanded framework I am proposing, professionals need to be taught hands-on strategies to:
1. Effectively interact with individuals with disabilities,
2. Effectively assess and identify potential and practical accommodations, and
3. Effectively implement accommodations and related
supports for individuals with a variety of disabilities.
While disability awareness and sensitivity training is critical, available training also needs to include identified principles and competencies across multiple sectors and disciplines.
For additional reading: see: Fitness Centers still lack accessibility for people with disabilities.
Suggested Resources include: The National Center on Disability, Health, and Physical Activity.
- The definition of accommodation is adapted from the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion.
Excerpts of this article were originally published 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).