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TX: 24.05.04 – How Can Gyms Be Made More Accessible?

PRESENTER: DIANA MADILL



THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY


MADILL
From October gyms like other public buildings will be legally obliged under the Discrimination Disability Act to provide physical access for disabled people. It's already illegal for gyms to operate blanket bans on certain categories of disabled people - some gyms, for example, used to stop anyone with epilepsy using their facilities. Improving access to gyms, campaigners say, is much needed, as it's just as important for disabled people to be as fit as anyone else. If you're a wheelchair user it's easier to put on weight - a fact largely forgotten in the current furore about crisps, fast food and sedentary lifestyles, which forms the substance of the obesity debate.   Lizz Pearson went to one of the few fully integrated leisure centres in the country to find out how to give disabled exercisers a warm welcome.

PAGE
You have to excuse the heat in here because we have to keep it at least one or two degrees hotter than most swimming pools because people with disabilities - especially spinal cord injury - have circulatory problems, so as you can feel it's really like a sauna.

PEARSON
One in three people who use the Aspire Centre is disabled, 10 times the number at an average gym. Jenny Page is the centre's fundraising manager.

PAGE
The pool is absolutely integrated between disabled and able bodied people. So anybody in - a wheelchair user can go into the changing room, change into their swimming costume on to a plastic wheelchair.

ACTUALITY
Right, so this is a standing machine over here, so we get on to it, I'll take you over to transferral out the wheelchair, yeah?

PEARSON
Downstairs in the gym Aspire member Robin Gibbons gets to grips with the glider. It's a cross trainer that enables wheelchair users to exercise in a standing position, and it's one of several specially designed facilities.

ACTUALITY
Right, what I'm going to do is start levering you up, using the lever on the side. Okay, so stand you up straight.

PEARSON
What's this like to use Robin?

GIBBONS
I really like this machine actually because you're standing up, so you feel almost normal, it's similar to an exercise - an able bodied person would be doing, so it's psychologically as well as physiologically good for you.

PEARSON
Robin's used a wheelchair for three years, since a car crash that left him paralysed from the chest down. A keen sportsman he decided to move house to be nearer to Aspire, after struggling to find a suitable leisure centre elsewhere.

GIBBONS
There were several gyms that I was involved with in Bournemouth, which was where I was living when I had - at the time of my accident, and although they advertise they're disabled friendly, there's obviously many levels of disability and at my level it was impossible to use their gyms. Although I could use the swimming pool I needed somebody to help me change and of course you're also craned in and out of the pool as well. Whereas here at Aspire I need no help whatsoever - that's important for your own self esteem basically.

PEARSON
But few gyms boast these sorts of opportunities.

STIRLING
This is one of our very long corridors. You can just about get a wheelchair in here. So this in itself - it can still be a bit of an access problem.

PEARSON
Dulwich Leisure Centre is run by a not-for-profit group called Fusion on lease from Southwark Council. Audrey Stirling, Fusion's head, showed me the obstacles which make simply getting inside this listed Victoria building difficult.

STIRLING
You first arrive and you actually - you've got a whole host of steps there, very difficult to access.

PEARSON
Okay, well let's navigate the steep stairs and go inside and see what things are like when we get in.

STIRLING
Got many stairs here and they are quite steep. There is a handrail and when we get to the main doors they are very heavy, old, wooden doors and they're very difficult for anyone to push.

PEARSON
Through the turnstiles.

STIRLING
We've got a turnstile system here that allows access for wheelchairs, which in itself is quite interesting because they can't actually access the front anyway.

PEARSON
So you've got the wheelchair access at this point and you're waiting to get people in wheelchairs actually able to get this point where they can get in.

STIRLING
That's right.

PEARSON
At the moment gym users who can't use the steps have to ring ahead to be admitted through a rear tradesman's entrance at the end of an alleyway. Once inside they can get to the newly refurbished gym but not the pool.

STIRLING
One of the obstacles - it's very narrow, can be quite treacherous for anyone.

PEARSON
So Audrey faced with changing the swimming pool area to make it accessible what can you actually physically do here?

STIRLING
I mean physically it really is about a complete redevelopment of the site. It would be very difficult to actually tinker with this, there would be no point in doing so, it needs radical change.

PEARSON
Change is around the corner but at considerable cost - an estimated £5-6 million, with the work due to start next year. Nigel Robinson is the leisure development management for Southwark Council.

ROBINSON
Fusion will access the funding from private sources, at no cost to the council. We'll get a portfolio of centres across the borough, not just this one, that are fit for the 21st Century and meet modern needs. And I should also say that Fusion and the council will be judged on how accessible we are. Some of our main performance indicators are on increasing participation by excluded groups or groups that traditionally face barriers to participation, including people with disabilities. So we'll be setting them targets, green targets, and monitoring that very carefully.

PEARSON
But it doesn't stop at the front door. Once inside the reception that disabled people get is key.

ACTUALITY
Hi, I wonder if I may give you one of our brochures on the inclusive fitness initiative. Just to explain - we are a national initiative for encouraging disabled people to take regular exercise, I just wonder if it may be of interest to you?

Well possibly, I mean …

PEARSON
At the London Leisure Congress visitors are learning about a new project which is working on just that. Liz Hallett is the project's manager.

HALLETT
The proof of what we've done through the project is that it's the staff training which gives so much more about the customer service that's actually offered to a new disabled customer going into that site. And what we want to see coming out of the DDA is that staff training is actually looked at, things like equality issues are actually addressed.

PEARSON
The lottery funded project has brought in thousands of new gym users. John Holmes has been involved in one of the 19 pilot areas.

HOLMES
A lot of it is basically just the fear of going through the front door and obviously as disabled people we need to feel comfortable with the people who are going to train us. I mean I'm very conscious about my disabled hand at times, you feel you're sort of, if you like, exposing yourself to other people who may feel offended or embarrassed by your disability and personally you wouldn't get me near a gym if I didn't think the fitness instructors were well trained because I don't want to go back or endanger myself with my disability. I'm managing okay at the moment and I don't want to take a backward step in any way. So I can see the fear of disabled people getting involved in something that may endanger them in any way.

PEARSON
And the stakes are high.

ACTUALITY
What you need to do is 10 pushes, every time you push …

PEARSON
Personal achievement is important but as Gordon Neale of Disability Sport England warns, it's also a matter of national pride.

NEALE
We've got two perfect vehicles to latch on to - one our team going out to the Paralympics and hoping to achieve if not better what they done last time, out in Sydney, but also the bid that London's putting in for the 2012. But it's no good bidding for that 2012 programme if we are not putting the money into grassroots development, so that we have a team in 2012.

ACTUALITY
Okay, go on, another pull and three and two more and one more and just relax there.

MADILL
That report from Lizz Pearson.

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