Aspire, a national spinal injury charity, and The University of Birmingham have teamed up on a research project that is set to produce evidence-based Best Practice Guidance for training and employing disabled people in the fitness industry.

Disabled people are frequently excluded from this industry, but building on the success of the Aspire Leisure Centre which has led the way as an inclusive community leisure facility, the charity’s InstructAbility programme was set up to enhance inclusion across the wider sector. InstructAbility is the only initiative that has focused on disabled people’s career progression, and has now deployed over 300 disabled fitness professionals into voluntary and paid positions within hundreds of leisure facilities across the country. InstructAbility has also won numerous awards. The longer-term vision of InstructAbility is to influence the sector to the extent that programmes such as theirs will no longer be necessary.

Dr Juliette Stebbings consulting with disabled fitness professionals

Dr Juliette Stebbings consulting with disabled fitness professionals

Funded by Sport England, the collaborative research project will be the first to produce guidance on how best to train and employ disabled people in the fitness industry. To ensure these guidelines are evidence-based, it tracks current InstructAbility students and past graduates through their journeys. It also uniquely investigates the views about disability and the leisure industry held by a wide range of industry stakeholders, including training providers, awarding organisations and employers.

Dr Juliette Stebbings and Professor Brett Smith from the University of Birmingham are conducting the research, and are optimistic that the findings will lead to changes in current policy. It is hoped that the fitness industry becomes more inclusive in two important ways. First, that greater numbers of disabled people are employed at leisure and fitness facilities, and second, that disabled people are given further encouragement and more choice in how to be physically active. 

InstructAbility Programme Manager, Hilary Farmiloe, indicated,

“We have 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.   

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

Professor Brett Smith concluded,

“The initial research findings will be presented early next year with the publication and dissemination of the Best Practice Guidelines due by the end of 2018. The next phase will be to monitor the adoption of the guidelines across the sector. 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 University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.

For more information, contact Emma McKinney, Communications Manager (Health Sciences), University of Birmingham, tel: +44 (0) 121 414 6681 or email: [email protected]. For out of hours enquiries email [email protected] or please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.