Whether you’re a personal trainer, a football coach or a physiotherapist specialising in rehabilitation, a career in sports science can be a rewarding experience.
By Rebecca Shahoud
There is, however, stark underrepresentation of disabled people within the fitness industry, and this is particularly true within more senior positions. For many disabled people, lack of confidence is a major barrier to gaining employment, especially in sports careers.
Some people with a keen interest in fitness have even been actively discouraged from pursuing their chosen careers because of their disability, such as Amer Ali from Edinburgh.
School teachers had told Amer, who has dyspraxia and dyslexia, that there was “Too much competition out there”. Statements such as this dented his confidence to the point where he didn’t think that he would ever fulfil his ambition of working in the health and fitness industry.
However, with the help of Remploy – the provider of specialist employment services for disabled people and those with health conditions – Amer joined the ‘2 your future’ vocational course run by Edinburgh Leisure. He is now employed by Ainslee Leisure Centre and is a fully-qualified lifeguard and leisure centre assistant.
“The 2 your future course really helped me and gave me a big boost in confidence,” Amer says. “I have learned so much and now get to work in a job that I love. I am now going to have structure, a career with a sense of purpose and financial stability.”
Amer aims to further his career in the health and leisure industry, and hopes to inspire other people with health conditions to pursue their chosen careers.
Spinal injury charity, Aspire, has partnered with YMCAfit to create a programme designed to encourage disabled people into the fitness industry as qualified gym instructors.
InstructAbility enables disabled people to become fitness professionals, and to date, 300 people have qualified as gym instructors. By providing training and then work placements, over 50% of those who have completed the training have gone on to find regular employment in gyms; training able-bodied and disabled people.
InstructAbility national project manager, Hilary Farmiloe, says the barriers preventing people from building a career in the sports industry come from two directions, saying: “Lack of role models working in the industry is a huge factor, as employers can have preconceived ideas of what a disabled instructor can do. And, disabled people themselves don’t always consider it as a feasible career route,” she says
Indeed, lack of confidence is one of the biggest hurdles that disabled people have to overcome in terms of employment. This is the first thing that Aspire helps to tackle on their InstructAbility 15-day courses. The course leads to an internationally recognised qualification, a CYQ Level 2 certificate in Gym Instructing.
Once people find employment and demonstrate their competence to employers, many disabled people have gone on to secure jobs as personal trainers or level 4 instructors specialising in rehabilitation, even setting up their own gym, such as Joe Hartman.
Joe was seriously injured in a motorbike accident, and has since set up a rehabilitation clinic for trauma victims. He finds that his customers are inspired to achieve success when they hear about his own injuries and disabilities.
Dan Edwards was paralysed following a road accident at the age of 21 and now trains other people to become fitness instructors, but it nearly didn’t happen. Overwhelmed with fear, he didn’t turn up on his first day, as he thought he wouldn’t feel comfortable giving an able-bodied person instruction.
In July, InstructAbility is recruiting disabled people on its course in Rotherham, and another course will be available in Nottingham later in the year. Head to www.instructability.org.uk for more information on how to enrol.
Aspire has also launched a bursary scheme to encourage more disabled people into senior roles within the health and fitness industry. The Matrix LeadAbility Scholarship Programme, co-ordinated by ukactive and sponsored by Matrix Fitness UK, seeks to bring disabled people into senior positions, at boardroom level. It aims to address the under-representation of disabled people at director level, so they can influence policy to ensure inclusion across the health and fitness industry.
As disability sports don’t get as much financial backing as other sports, there are numerous roles within charity fundraising, marketing and promotion of these sports.
The Government is also dedicated to ensuring that disabled people are included in sports and physical activities, which has opened up further roles in sports development. People who work in these careers are involved in developing public awareness of disabled people in sport by liaising with governing bodies, schools and local clubs to promote best practice when it comes to coaching, training and youth development issues.
The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) aims to encourage more disabled people into sport and it lists a comprehensive jobs board with positions throughout the UK. Many of the jobs here are for experienced, qualified individuals, in roles such as managerial and coaching. (see: www.efds.co.uk/get-involved/jobs-in-sport)