National Accessibility Awareness Week is integral in order to educate members of society on the abilities, rights and needs of individuals with disabilities, visible and invisible. What makes it more important is identifying the gaps that exist within perceptual understandings and these ideas in practice.
For context, National Accessibility Awareness Week began to be observed in Canada in 2017. It commences on the last Sunday in May and recognizes initiatives, efforts, organizations, and policies that are aimed at creating an accessible nation. The week correlates with the Accessible Canada Act which was passed by the Canadian Government in 2019.
The ACA is focused on designing the foundational aspects of Canada to be barrier- free. These include and are related to, employment, transportation, communication and built environment. The act intends to not position accessibility as an after-thought but to create an awareness and reticence to act to create change and allow individuals with visible and invisible disabilities to live fully and engage meaningfully in every part of society.
When most people think of accessibility, they think of infrastructure. Yes, this is integral and without building codes that create physical spaces that are large, wide enough for a wheelchair, crutches, a scooter, or which could be navigated with the assistance of a white cane for individuals who are visually impaired for example, so many would be unable to fulfill needs or enjoy life. There needs to be a broader shift that occurs in consciousness raising and creating a more diverse understanding of accessibility to also include the importance of fitness and sport as being disciplines, industries, and sectors where accessibility considerations are included, mandated, and applied to across environments.
“Accessibility should never be taken into account and addressed as an afterthought, to meet an inclusive policy and land a check mark in a box. The common perception that stands of not needing to comply to meet an accessibility standard, because of lack of patrons who are part of the demographic which requires accessible accommodations to built environments, such as a ramp, or elevator, accessible door switch, restroom modifications, seating accommodations at a venue or modifications to fitness facilities; needs to be deconstructed.”
The realization that making such modifications, will in fact in fact lead to increased business opportunities and in the case of fitness facilities, whether their large franchise gyms, or small boutique studios or sport and rec businesses; the creation of an accessible and inclusive environment that includes adaptive fitness equipment, such as a Ski Erg, Concept 2 Rower, Universally Designed Cable Machine, hand cycle and other aids for grip training, along with adaptive fitness program design, not only amplifies revenue by providing a necessary service to clients in true need, but doing so, positions the fitness and health professionals as being more qualified to helping one increase and be in control of their longevity wholistically.
In Canada we are starting to notice more importance slowly be allocated to accessibility within health and fitness-centric spaces, yet it is a slow domino effect occurring mostly within facilities which are primarily rehabilitation focused and/ or for those specifically working with individuals that are part of special populations.
Flex for Access’ goal continuously as a Non-Profit Organization; is to harness and develop partnerships with mainstream gyms, exercise studios, athletic performance corporations, fitness and sport- specific governing bodies, to create educational resources and tools to educate on implementing adaptive fitness and sport protocols, curricula, and programs, to educate industry leaders who are experienced, or new to their fields, on how to work confidently, with any individual with a varying mobility or intellectual need, and to furthermore create the opportunities for it to be feasible for anyone who uses any type of assistive device, to safely and confidently train at a facility, and not feel outnumbered and belittled. Flex for Access’ Adapt to Empower eBook is a resource designed for fitness industry professionals to learn about adaptive fitness and how to incorporate it into their work. How can we all join forces to co-create initiatives for education and engagement for adaptive fitness in conjunction or partnership with the mainstream fitness industry?
Movement is medicine for all. It transforms the way we think and can perform all tasks in life. Now is the time for accessibility not to be understood as a necessity for something so different, in the form of specialized, cumbersome equipment used for mobility enhancement, when someone loses a physical ability because of an impairment; but to realize it in the form of allowing someone to do whatever it is they need or choose to, independently without a lot of labor or change to an environment because it should be conducive to barrier-free, flat access. Within the scope of fitness-based training and sport of rec, this notion is to be manifested as creating programs and environments where both the fitness and health professional and client, feel invested in consistently working towards higher and improved levels of strength, mobility, flexibility, and healthy, incrementally developed habits that achieve greater mental health and the capacity for resilience.
To learn more about Flex for Access and how to support the Non-Profit Organization and how to hire Jess Silver as an adaptive fitness consultant to work with your facility and team, visit www.flexforaccess.ca