Barriers are preventing the development of inclusive gym equipment, says report

Ability Bow GymAbility Bow Gym in London is one of only a few gyms designed especially for people with access requirements

Accessible fitness equipment is not developing in the way it should because of barriers including cost, industry culture and a lack of awareness of visually impaired users’ experiences.

That’s according to a new report by Rica, an organisation which provides market research and support for elderly and disabled people.

Rica’s research investigated the development and provision of electronic fitness equipment for visually impaired users, with a specific focus on the accessibility of screen based consoles, and the needs and experiences of users.

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The findings indicated that equipment such as treadmills, cross trainers, exercise bikes and rowing machines were often inaccessible to people with visual impairments.

Participants in the study found that LED consoles, which feature tactile buttons and a fixed display, are moderately more accessible than LCD touchscreen consoles.

Participants found consoles more accessible if they featured tactile buttons, audio output, colour contrast and block colours. They unanimously agreed that there was a need for voice-over on all console types.

Rica’s report found that the use of cardiovascular fitness equipment had a substantial impact upon users’ lives, including improvements in everyday fitness and mental health.

However, participants found accessing fitness equipment and wider facilities challenging. This was due to the built environment and the customer service users received.

Overall, the equipment, facilities and services for visually impaired users were largely inconsistent.

Rica recommended that manufacturers should introduce audio output and voice-over technology for electronic fitness equipment.

It also said that there ought to be a best-practice guide for manufacturers outlining the design features most appropriate for visually impaired users. In addition it wants product design teams to make better use of guidelines and best practice from other industries, independent organisations and governmental bodies.

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