Instructability - Instructor Training Specifically for Disabled People

Press Release from Skills Active: 05/08/2011


YMCA Fitness Industry Training (YMCAfit) and Aspire, a national charity supporting people with spinal cord injuries, have published findings from Instructability, a ground-breaking project which sets out to increase employment of disabled fitness professionals.

The pilot project which is the first of its kind in the UK offers Level 2 fitness instructor training specifically for disabled people, leading to an internationally recognised qualification.[i] Once qualified, participants are given support to find placements and employment in the fitness industry - half of the participants on the Instructability pilot are now in employment.

The Instructability approach will proactively support and train those with disabilities to hopefully secure employment in the fitness and leisure sectors.  It is hoped that this will help tackle the massive under-representation and the prejudice which people with disabilities who work in the health and fitness sector still face.

National research commissioned from Central YMCA[ii] found that almost 1 in 3 people wouldn't hire a personal trainer with a noticeable physical disability and that the public thought that being a Personal Trainer or Gym Instructor would be the most difficult occupation for someone with a visible physical disability to work in - harder than being a hairdresser, engineer or shop worker. This mirrors research from Aspire which has found that when similar candidates apply for job vacancies in the fitness sector, those who are non-wheelchair users are over 3 times more likely to receive interviews than wheelchair users.[iii]

Aside from tackling recruitment discrimination and changing public attitudes to exercise professionals with disabilities the hope is that Instructability will help boost the numbers of disabled people undertaking regular physical activity.

Currently, of the 10 million people living with disabilities in the UK less than 600,000 (6%) participate in sport and a similar percentage (7.9%) is estimated to be achieving the recommended levels of physical activity.

The success of the Instructability pilot is notable. Seven out of the nine participants achieved a Level 2 Gym Instructor qualification and have completed a six week work placement. Four have already been offered paid employment as a result of their performance during placement.

Fran Brown is one of Instructability's most recent success stories.  Fran says that people living with disabilities continue to face discrimination and a degree of prejudice either working in or using health and fitness facilities.

"I often feel self conscious in the gym environment, and this isn't helped in many gyms which don't have the correct equipment or staff who are willing to help. The Instructability scheme is a great initiative - it is giving me the skills and experience to secure an entry level job in the industry, and hopefully by increasing the numbers of people working in the sector who have a disability it will send a positive signal to people in the same boat who may be put off using a gym."

Denise Page, Director of YMCAfit, believes the Instructability approach can help change the culture that may stop those from disabilities working in fitness industry.

"We hope that learners will overcome barriers specific to the fitness sector and disability, such as a lack of disabled role models, difficulty accessing  training and work venues, and an assessment structure which can be impractical for certain participants.

Tasha Webster, Operations Director, from Aspire agrees and says that: "Longer term it is hoped that by employing more disabled fitness instructors in the industry this will increase the number of positive role models and encourage greater participation in physical activity by disabled people, who are significantly less likely to meet the recommended levels of activity for health.

Both YMCAfit and Aspire have secured Government funding to roll out the Instructability programme across London.  Longer term the aim is to secure local and national public service contracts for continued delivery, to increase links with more employers, and to create greater public awareness of disability issues in fitness and wider industries.

[i] The project was piloted in North London at the Aspire National Training Centre in September 2010. Aspire recruited participants via their external community networks such as Remploy, Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, ProActive and Spinal Injury Centres and on their website.  Potential participants were screened by Aspire and YMCAfit through an informal interview process to establish expectations and suitability for the programme.  The pilot programme was fully funded by Aspire and YMCAfit in order to gather evidence to support sustainable funding for future courses.


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