Fitness equipment isn’t fit for us, say visually impaired gym users

Post date: 
Friday, 9 February 2018
Photo of people at the gym on treadmills

A new report shows that the design of fitness equipment used in many gyms is a barrier to people with sight loss taking part in exercise.

A research project has investigated the accessibility and ease of use of the controls on fitness equipment such as treadmills, exercise bikes, cross trainers and rowing machines.
Carried out by consumer research charity Rica with the support of Thomas Pocklington Trust and Metro Blind Sport, the study involved user experience testing of equipment by 20 blind and partially sighted people, followed by focus groups and individual interviews.
The participants said that while they enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, they find the design of fitness equipment to be a barrier. 

They are calling for both gym operators and equipment manufacturers to provide more accessible, inclusively designed equipment to help remove this obstacle.

Rica also investigated what equipment, facilities and services gyms offer visually impaired (VI) people, trends in fitness equipment technology; and ways of working with manufacturers to develop more accessible fitness equipment.
Participants made some recommendations which could improve the experience of people with sight loss going to the gym, including:
  • much wider use of audio output and voice-over technology in fitness equipment
  • the use of wireless technology
  • the ability to increase font size on the screens
  • tactile buttons and high-contrast colours on LED consoles
  • lever controls and/or control buttons on handlebars
  • improved layout, colour use, signage and lighting in leisure centres
  • trained staff to assist visually impaired people in using equipment.
They said that VI-friendly adaptations would improve going to the gym for other users as well, such as people with learning disabilities, and people with different motor or sensory skills, therefore further increasing the number of potential gym users.
Roy Smith, Director of Sports Development at Metro Blind Sport, says: “New voice assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home have opened up a fantastic new world of possibilities for visually impaired people. The challenge now is for gyms, leisure centres and the fitness industry to provide audio and screen magnification on new gym equipment so more VI people like me, as well as older people, can have better access and can use the equipment independently.”

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