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New research aims to break down barriers for disabled staff in fitness industry

Collectively we need to develop a sector in which disabled people feel confident and valued as employees
– Hilary Farmiloe, programme manager, Aspire InstructAbility

A research project by spinal injury charity Aspire and the University of Birmingham will help establish best practice for training and employing disabled people in the fitness industry.

Funded by Sport England, the research will be evidence-based, focusing on the experiences of disabled people working in the sector and how industry stakeholders, including training providers, awarding organisations and employers, view disability.

“Collectively, we need to develop a sector in which disabled people feel confident and valued as employees, and where they can trust that training and professional development will be as equally accessible to them as their non-disabled peers,” said Hilary Farmiloe, Aspire’s InstructAbility programme manager.

“This will attract more disabled people to work in the industry and thus bring down barriers for customers and staff alike.”

In 2010, Aspire launched the InstructAbility programme to enhance inclusion across the exercise sector. The initiative focuses on disabled people’s career progression and has helped 300 disabled fitness professionals into voluntary and paid positions in leisure facilities across the country.

“We've gained enormous insight from running the InstructAbility programme so far, but we need to adopt a rigorous scientific approach to capturing the learnings so we can share this with the wider industry,” said Farmiloe.

Dr Juliette Stebbings and Professor Brett Smith from the university will be conducting the research and hope their findings will lead to changes in two ways. Firstly, that greater numbers of disabled people are employed in the sector, and secondly, that disabled people are given encouragement and more choice in how to be physically active.

Prof Smith said: “We hope that the results of our research will lead to disability and wider sector organisations working together to develop a systematic and comprehensive approach to making change in the industry.”

The initial research findings will be presented early next year, with the publication of guidelines due by the end of 2018.

As reported yesterday, six leisure operators have joined a scheme to give disabled people and those with long-term health conditions better access to physical activity opportunities.

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