After this summer, and an eye-opening parade of Paralympic athletes, you would think that the health and fitness industry would be all geared up to welcome the disabled to courses for trainers. Unfortunately we have a way to go yet.
I understand the need for disclaimers and also I think it’s fair enough to set out expectations of all those considering signing up for the course, but this information should be out there and available before payments are sent in. Our promotional material needs to be inclusive and actively encourage people to enquire and find out if they can participate. That way, we make friends and open our own minds to other viewpoints and experiences.
So, if you are considering running an outdoors competition or workshop in your studio, here are a few pointers to keep everyone safe, but to be open and inclusive with it too
1. Explain in your advertising for the event what facilities you have, whether the venue and toilets are on the ground floor, whether there is wheelchair access etc. For a Mud Runner-style event, specify how much help you can offer to competitors if they should get into difficulty mid-event. For a seminar, if there are no catering facilities and no shops nearby, explain this from the outset.
2. Try not to make assumptions about what a disabled attendee may or may not be able to do. If your event is powerlifting, for example, you need only look at Britain’s own Bronze medallist Paralympian Zoe Newson to realise that disability is not as great a barrier as attitude.
3. Explain from the outset fully what the event will include, and what participants will need to bring. It is not for you to pass comment on an individual’s capacity to participate: you may only specify the requirements of your course attendees. For example, you will be on dodgy territory legally if you were to say to a disabled person “You can’t come on a running course if you can’t run”. You need to use positive language and only express your reservations about how much their disability might limit their ability to participate. After that, the choice is theirs. Your assessment of the situation may be overly negative anyway: a coach does not need to participate in the sport, only to be able to effectively convey the message to the athletes.
4. Once people have booked and paid, if you add in further stipulations which could prevent those bookings from participation, you will be at risk of being accused of discrimination. Re-assess your own values, and question your ideas. Think back to the summer and all we saw in the Olympic Park: there is no limit when ambition meets opportunity.
Now please go and write your posters, your Facebook event, and have a fantastic and inclusive occasion!