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Inclusive Fitness works out better for all

The English Federation of Disability Sport were disappointed to learn that many gyms are still inaccessible to disabled people, according to a Leonard Cheshire Disability report released this week. This has emphasised the significant need for programmes such as Inclusive Fitness Initiative.

The Inclusive Fitness Initiative, a programme managed by the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), have worked closely with Leonard Cheshire Disability to support the Action on Access insight. As the national body and charity for disabled people in sport and physical activity, EFDS believed it was important to use mystery shopping as another way to monitor gym accessibility. As the end user of gyms, disabled people are more aware of their individual needs and crucial to identify positive and negative examples.

Leonard Cheshire Disability campaigners surveyed 300 gyms across the UK. Their report gathers together this evidence, with other helpful advice to provide information on how gyms can reach more disabled people. Findings from the survey included the vast majority of gyms (88%) did offer level entrance, and  promisingly, more than half of surveys (57%) reported staff did demonstrate they had disability awareness. But customer service for disabled members could have been enhanced by knowing what facilities are actually available to them. 

EFDS has been delivering the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) for over ten years and in this time have accredited over 400 gym facilities nationally. Those gyms now realise how important accessibility and service provision is for disabled people. The IFI Mark is a standard of accreditation which addresses the physical access of the building, accessible fitness equipment, customer service training and exercise programming and marketing to disabled people. Any gym can apply to be audited for the IFI Mark- whether publicly or privately owned.

Barry Horne, the Chief Executive of the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) commented:

“After an uplifting and positive summer of sport, we know the Games’ momentum will inspire more disabled people to participate in sport and physical activity at all levels.  EFDS are confident that the infrastructure is in place within IFI Mark gyms to support that demand on a local level. This report does not mean that all gyms are unwelcoming to disabled people. It means with support, like the Inclusive Fitness Initiative, everyone can enjoy exercise at their own leisure. We look forward to welcoming more gyms as accredited sites, so provision is far greater- both geographically and access wise”.  


The IFI Mark covers inclusion on a wider scale than the surveys undertaken in this report. It continues to influence the leisure industry and works closely with the Fitness Industry Association (FIA). IFI supports leisure operators so they can improve their services and include more disabled people. EFDS want to accredit more facilities nationally to ensure that disabled people have the same choices as non-disabled people when using the gym.

Stuart Wise, Centre Manager at Pent Valley Leisure Centre in Folkestone is pleased with the accreditation benefits at their site:

 “The IFI Mark shows our commitment in welcoming any customer who may want to come along and use the facility. We consider disabled people within all our service provision – our facility is accessible, we have the right fitness equipment and our staff are trained and welcoming. Disabled customers make up thirty per cent of our gym membership because we are and they are confident in what we offer”.


EFDS recognise that participation for disabled people is not only affected by physical and logistical barriers but that psychological barriers are the biggest issue.  With recent media coverage from the Paralympics we hope that disabled people consider physical activity as an option and when they venture down to their local leisure centre are welcomed and able to use the facility effectively. Physical activity has health benefits for all. Hopefully, the Paralympics have changed many attitudes and we support that change.

Click for the IFI facilities or achieving the IFI Mark 

For more information on IFI contact Jules Twells on 01509 227750

The Exercise Your Right report will be launched on Monday. For more information on their report, please contact Ruth Somerville in the Leonard Cheshire Disability press office on 020 3242 0313 for more information. Email:  Out-of-hours: 07903 949 388.