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Accessible gym equipment for blind and partially sighted people – yes please!

Hello, my name is Michelle Felix, and I have my own business, based in London, which specialises in audio described exercise for blind and partially sighted people.

It was a pleasure to work with Rica and Metro Blind Sports (MBS) on research into accessible gym equipment. This research project originally developed from work in 2014 when Roy Smith from Metro Blind Sports, Kate Bosley, an InstructAbility graduate, and I attended fitness industry events and spoke to manufacturers of gym equipment to highlight the need for gym cardio machines such as treadmills, rowers, bikes and cross-trainers to be made accessible to blind people.

I was delighted when Thomas Pocklington Trust funded Rica to research this area with MBS, which is a sports club in London for visually impaired people. Find out more about Metro Blind Sports: www.metroblindsport.org

Copies of the full research report and the summary paper are available, on request, in Braille and on audio-cd from Thomas Pocklington Trust; please phone: 020 8996 1937

We made five top recommendations based on our research:

1. Include tactile buttons and touch screen audio feedback as well as voice commands.

2. Levers for adjusting speed and resistance on handrails are ergonomic and useful.

3. It’s great to offer access to gym equipment via a mobile app,  but built-in access is best of all. Include an earphone socket for user privacy.

4. A high-contrast colour scheme in the gym environment, to distinguish equipment, the floor, walls and structural building features, is an important and relatively simple adaptation.

5. Buttons on equipment need plenty of space between them. Buttons for specific operations should be shown by using different shapes or sizes, or replaced with levers.

What manufacturers said

Manufacturers of gym equipment acknowledged that the technology exists to make changes that would enable blind people to have better access to their equipment. But they were concerned that there would not be enough users to justify the investment.

However, it was great to hear more enthusiasm about making new products accessible as this would be cheaper to implement at the design stage rather than retrospectively.

The way forward

I believe that the way forward is to have user acceptance testing in the design stage of gym equipment which includes both functionally blind people and those who use residual vision.

I’m thrilled to have been involved with this project on many different levels, as the work Rica does strongly resonates with my passion for excellence in product and service provision for older and disabled people.

I hope this research can be a springboard for better access for people with sight loss to access, enjoy and experience the benefits of fitness. My motto is: Get fit have fun feel great!

If you want to find out more about me and my tailored sessions, including our audio described exercise classes for people with sight loss, visit www.michellefelixgroup.com, email me at michelle@michellefelixgroup.com or phone me on 0785 323 4747.

What have your experiences with gym equipment been? How can we let gym suppliers know that blind and partially sighted people and older people are an important and growing group of gym members? Please comment below. Thank you.