Crossing boundaries: The perceived impact of disabled fitness instructors in the gym

Emma V. Richardson, Brett Smith, Anthony Papathomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
276 Downloads (Pure)



For disabled individuals, the gym is perceived to be an inaccessible space to exercise due to the deeply embedded ableism within this environment. This study uniquely explored how disabled gym instructors perceived they impacted the gym environment and the possibilities of making the gym a more inclusive space for disabled people to exercise.


We used an inductive, qualitative design whereby ten disabled gym instructors were purposefully sampled.


Data were rigorously collected through semi-structured interviews totalling 35 h, transcribed verbatim, and subject to thematic analysis.


Participants perceived they made three key impacts in the gym. First, they believed they promoted the gym as a more inclusive environment through helping construct a more accessible physical space, embodying an alternate way of being and providing a relatable narrative. Second, instructors believed their own unique understanding of disability improved their capacity to relate to disabled gym clients by instilling a sense of camaraderie and acting as an aspirational future self. Third, participants felt they enhanced applied practice for training disabled clients through creativity in training and supporting non-disabled instructors.


This article makes a significant contribution to knowledge by highlighting that disabled gym instructors can play a vital role in promoting a more inclusive space to exercise. It also highlights that to increase gym use amongst disabled populations, efforts should consider the potential beneficial impacts of disabled gym instructors in relation to promoting health and well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-92
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date18 Dec 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Dec 2016


  • Disability
  • Gym
  • Instructors
  • Inclusion
  • Exercise


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