An Open Letter to the Fitness Industry on Inclusivity

If you want to reach the 80% of people who aren't exercising at a gym, then you need to join health clubs around the world that are working to make facilities more accessible to people of all abilities.

Dear Fitness Industry,

Did you know as many as 98% of people will experience some type of disability or physical limitation at some point in their lives? That's 7.4 billion people. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.5 billion people are currently living with a disability.

Disability isn't a topic a lot of people like talking about, but it's an important one.

There is a movement taking place—right now—all over the world to make health clubs universally accessible to people living with disabilities. You can be a part of this initiative. Scratch that, we need you to be a part of this initiative.

We already know your club is committed to improving the lives of your members and community. So, why not take the opportunity to reach even more people with the healing power of exercise by becoming a UFIT Champion through the IHRSA Foundation?

Ihrsa Foundation Pin Open Letter To Industry Column Width

A club owner sporting the IHRSA Foundation pin at the IHRSA 2019 IHRSA Foundation VIP Reception.

Universal Fitness Innovation & Transformation—known as UFIT—is a global social change movement that helps health clubs build their capacity to welcome people of all abilities into the club. UFIT and the IHRSA Foundation provide training, support, and resources to help clubs just like yours change their culture to one of accessibility and inclusivity.

In 2019, we set the goal to add 10 new clubs to the IHRSA Foundation family through participation in the ACCESS Health: Inclusive Fitness/UFIT program. We implore you, consider becoming a UFIT Champion club in 2019.

What Happens When You Become a UFIT Club?

UFIT Clubs complete the UFIT Champion process, which includes mentor consultation sessions, owner and manager training, club staff training, partnering with local disability service providers, implementing a club-initiated program, and a review session with your mentor.

The best part is that you're not alone. Throughout the process, you will receive all the support you need from mentors, master trainers, and the IHRSA Foundation. In addition, a staff and trainer manual and a library of resources are accessible through the UFIT app.

We recognize that while many clubs may support this mission, not all are ready to make big changes right now. If this is your club, you can become a UFIT Supporter by signing the Marseille Declaration, a commitment to inclusion by and for the fitness industry, and sharing your support of inclusive fitness practices. Consider small changes you can make to welcome more people of different abilities into your club.

Clubs who have started the journey to creating a welcoming and supportive environment at their club for people of all abilities aren't in it for the recognition. But given how important this mission is, we always make sure to recognize the clubs that go above and beyond. If your club is already implementing inclusive practices or running some programming for people living with a disability, apply to be a UFIT Recognized Club.

How Experienced Fitness Professionals Can Help

If you are—or your club has—experienced fitness industry professional(s), we need you, too. UFIT needs qualified, experienced people to serve as trainers and mentors, helping to train club staff on working with people from a diverse range of abilities. We especially need you if you have experience in creating and sustaining the cultural change leading to an environment of inclusivity, which is a crucial part of the UFIT process.

UFIT Master Trainers complete a UFIT Master Trainer course, which UFIT provides online. Once you complete training, the IHRSA Foundation and UFIT will connect you with a club in your region, and you can begin training their staff. UFIT provides all the tools and curricula you need for these trainings. Your time as a Master Trainer is compensated and any travel costs are covered by the club with which you are matched.

UFIT Mentors complete a UFIT Mentor training course, also provided online. After completing the training, the IHRSA Foundation and UFIT will connect you with a club in your region, and you can begin working with that club's leadership and management staff. UFIT provides all the tools and templates needed for these consultations. Any travel costs that mentors incur are covered and your time is compensated by the club with which you are matched.

Throughout the process, Mentors and Master Trainers provide the support needed for the staff at their assigned clubs.

IHRSA is working with the UNESCO Chair on a proposal to the WHO for UFIT. The end goal of our proposal is to gain support from the WHO to roll out a large expansion of UFIT. This proposal has been submitted as an Inter UN Agency collaboration between the WHO and UNESCO.

Ready to get involved? Start by emailing me to see how you can join the UFIT family.

Here's the thing. In our industry, we often talk about reaching that 80% of people who aren't currently exercising in clubs, but if we want to get more people more active, we need to make it easier for all people to get active.

Alexandra Black Larcom

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Alexandra Black Larcom

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, previously served as IHRSA's Senior Manager of Health Promotion & Health Policy—a position dedicated to creating resources and projects to help IHRSA members offer effective health programs, and promoting policies that advance the industry.