Accessible Fitness Equipment

The design of fitness equipment used in many leisure centres and gyms is a barrier to visually impaired people taking part in exercise.

Research carried out by Rica in 2018, with the support of Thomas Pocklington Trust and Metro Blind Sport, investigated the development and provision of electronic fitness equipment for blind and partially sighted gym goers. There was a specific focus on the accessibility of screen based consoles, and the needs and experiences of users.

Some of the key findings included an urgent need for voice-over technology to ensure fitness equipment is accessible to blind and partially sighted people. Alongside this, it was found that LED consoles that feature tactile buttons and a fixed display are moderately more accessible than touchscreen consoles.

Full Report: Inclusive Fitness Equipment for People with a Visual Impairment.

We, as blind and partially sighted people, widely use audio output and voiceover technology in our household appliances. Apple, Android and other devices include as standard assistive technology like voiceover. Cooking and kitchen appliances, smart heating and lighting products all provide assisted living for blind and partially sighted people through audio output and voiceover technology. Smart technology is growing in everyone’s life, not just blind and partially sighted people through smart doorbells, lawnmowers and with Alexa and Siri. If smart technology is available, if audio output and voiceover technology are available and can be used for everyday life, why can’t this include fitness equipment?

Recommendations which could improve our experience as visually impaired people, include:

  • Much wider use of audio output and voiceover 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


Adapting Existing Equipment

For leisure centre operators and gym owners, managing and adapting existing equipment can help us as blind and partially people to use equipment more easily.

Tactile markings can be used to identify important information, buttons or settings on surfaces. For example, they could be used on resistance equipment to help the user understand how much weight they are loading on. Similarly, tactile maps could be created to help an individual to navigate around a facility.

Bump-ons (or bump dots) can be used to help users locate equipment and controls on equipment. If a user can’t see the controls of a treadmill for example, then items like Bump-ons could be used on the controls. They could be placed on the control for ‘Start’, ‘Speed’, ‘Incline’ and ‘Stop’, which would allow an individual to use the equipment independently.

The equipment could be adapted to allow greater use. This may mean a minor adaptation to a ball or piece of gym equipment, such as using a ball that is larger and has ball bearings inside. Similarly, good colour contrast could be used to identify certain parts of gym equipment controls.

Positioning of exercise equipment is extremely important. During the first visit, it is best practice to guide a blind or partially sighted person around the facility or area to help with navigation in the future.

Getting from one machine to another or picking out the correct free weights can all be barriers. Fitness equipment in leisure centres tends to be arranged in a compact way, leaving little room between machines. The close proximity brings potential trip hazards. Make sure that the equipment is well spaced out so that there are no tight spaces to navigate and where needed, there is ample room to use a cane.

If shown comprehensively, we can usually learn the layout of a leisure centre from memory which allows us as blind or partially sighted people to move around it independently. It is therefore very important to highlight any rearrangement to a facility.

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