By Jeff Tiessen, ParaSport® Ontario Executive Director and 3-time Paralympian

First, who are “they”? Well, in this case “they” are potential clients with disabilities for your fitness facility. Build “what” you might be quizzing next? Well, that depends. It could be one of two things, or both. Both would be best actually… particularly if we’re talking about them coming.

If “it” is accessible space – as in ramps and railings ­– that you’re constructing for customers with disabilities, they might come. For some it’s necessary, for many it isn’t. No denying it, someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility needs barrier-free access to your gym, or your pool and your changerooms of course. I’m a double arm amputee, so stairs aren’t an issue for me (lever door handles inside your facility over round ones would be a treat for me, but not a deal-breaker…. I’ll manage, always have).

If “it” is head space – as in attitudes and education ­– that you’ve imparted on your staff with respect to simple and basic sensitivities and sensibilities toward folks with a disability, then there’s even a better chance they’ll come. Put accessible space and head space together, and you’ve got it covered for us… we’re even more likely to come!

As one of the members of our 1,000 Years of ParaSport® Advisory Team succinctly observed: “Inclusion is only partially about design and mostly about desire.” Think about it this way… people with disabilities are adapting to the world we live in every day, at work, at school, at home, and at play. We’ve got this measure of life covered, for the most part anyway! And we’ll figure it out in your gym too, with the help, knowledge and experience of your professionals of course. Give us someone to ask who’s comfortable with helping, and ready to help us adapt to your environment and help your environment adapt to us. With that arrangement, why wouldn’t we come?

Fitness instructors, trainers, facility managers and owners know – probably as well or better than most – about the importance of respecting, accommodating and celebrating individuality and physical differences. Fitness professionals understand about the wide-ranging variance in goals, milestones, motivation and ability among people, your clients most specifically.

And so it is the same for the community of people with disabilities… from the weeknight weight-loss-inspired bunch, to the weekend wheelchair sport warriors, to the extreme and high-performance athletes, regardless of which disability tag we wear – amputee, blind, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, and the rest.

Roll out the “Welcome Mat.” Invite us. Show us what you’ve got for us. Help us figure out how it’ll work for us. That’s what’s most important. That’s all. We’ll come. Maybe not all 1.8 million of us across Ontario, but that might be a little much for starters anyway!

P.S. Need some help with that? ParaSport Ontario is here to assist and inform activity leaders, fitness professionals and facilities whenever you need it. With 40 years of experience as an organization, a thousand more in our Advisory Team and legions of athletes and activity enthusiasts whom we serve across the province, we’ve got answers, solutions and resources for you. And what’s more, we want to learn from you too… your experiences and solutions. Visit or call 416-426-7187.