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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Disability in the gym : perceptions and understandings about individuals with disabilities Zaletelj, Ljudmila


Obtaining and maintaining health is vitally important to people with disabilities, especially when you consider the fact that they report low standards of health (Carroll et al., 2014; Drum et al., 2005; WHO, 2011). One of the key reasons for their poor health conditions is their lack of engagement in physical activity and exercise (Rimmer et al., 1996; Schoenborn & Barnes, 2002; Washburn et al., 2002). Gyms have been recognized as important environments in which individuals with disabilities can engage in physical activity and exercise and positively influence several aspects of their well-being (Calder et al., 2018; Richardson et al., 2017a, 2017b, 2017c). As trainers and instructors have been recognized as an essential element of supporting positive gym experiences (Martin & Smith, 2002; Richardson et al, 2017c), it is essential to uncover their understanding of disability and individuals with disabilities. Using semi-structured qualitative interviews with 12 trainers and instructors, this research critically explored personal trainers’ and instructors’ understanding of disability and the potential impact of these perceptions and understandings on the experiences of people with disabilities when they visit the gym. The findings revealed that trainers and instructors understood disability as a lack of ability and a deviation from a common norm. Individuals with disabilities were perceived as an anomaly from the desired able-bodied standard. Moreover, the findings highlighted that fear of inability to design and implement adequate and safe training sessions posed a barrier as it discouraged trainers and instructors from working with individuals with disabilities. However, when trainers and instructors did work with clients with disabilities, they did not only have positive experiences but they also felt they developed a more holistic practice as a result of this experience.

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