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Disability and the gym: experiences, barriers and facilitators of gym use for individuals with physical disabilities

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posted on 22.09.2016, 09:20 by Emma V. Richardson, Brett M. Smith, Anthony PapathomasAnthony Papathomas
Purpose: Individuals with physical disabilities are among the most inactive population in society, arguably due to the lack of suitable environments to exercise. The gym is a space dedicated to improving physical fitness in a controlled environment with specialized equipment and qualified instructors. The feasibility of using this space to promote health to this population, however, is yet to be established. Method: Over an 18-month period, 21 people with physical disabilities were interviewed regarding their experiences in the gym. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews, transcribed verbatim, and subject to thematic analysis. Results: Four broad themes were identified: (1) experiencing enhanced well-ness, (2) perceived conflict between gym values and disability, (3) influence of a previous gym identity, and (4) experiences of psycho-emotional disablism. Conclusions: Participants were perceived to experience a variety of health benefits; however, they also experienced many barriers such as not aligning to the cultural norms of the gym, limited interpretations of health, oppressive messages from the built environment, and negative relational interactions. While there is potential for the gym to be used as a place to promote health, more must be done to foster an inclusive atmosphere in this space.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

Disability and Rehabilitation


RICHARDSON, E.V., SMITH, B.M. and PAPATHOMAS, A., 2016. Disability and the gym: experiences, barriers and facilitators of gym use for individuals with physical disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 39(19), pp.1950-1957.


© Taylor & Francis


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Disability and Rehabilitation on 14 Sep 2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09638288.2016.1213893.