Member Spotlight: Inclusive Fitness Standard


Member Spotlight: Inclusive Fitness Standard

Date: Thursday, August 19, 2021
Category: Member News

Stephanie Schnorbus Stephens, Ph.D.
Research Assistant 
Beneficial Designs, Inc. 

Chair of the Inclusive Fitness Standard committee discusses the newly released updated standard, the work that went into the updating the standard and how the standard can be used to create more inclusive environment for those with disabilities.

What is “Inclusive Fitness”? And why is it important to have a standard?

Simply put, inclusive fitness is creating fitness centers that are welcoming and accessible to people of all abilities. This doesn’t just mean accessible facilities and fitness equipment, but also includes classes that are open to people of all abilities, welcoming staff, and marketing information that is accessible—in short, an inclusive culture.

Standards can be mandatory, such as the ADA Standards, or voluntary, such as the RESNA Inclusive Fitness Standards (RESNA IF-1). Standards aim to provide a complete set of instructions, objective specifications, and test methods. But sometimes the mandatory standards and regulations can include vague requirements such as “equality of opportunity.” I think this happens because over-regulation can be a problem, but it also means that most people do not know how to fulfil those requirements.

Standards translate requirements into practice, and voluntary standards often provide best practices that go beyond the bare minimum requirement, based on input from experts and users. Without standards and guidelines, few in the fitness industry would know how to implement the laws and regulatory requirements to provide access for people with disabilities. RESNA IF-1 helps fill that gap.

RESNA IF-1 not only addresses the regulatory requirements and physical accessibility needs, but also maps a way for fitness facilities to think about being inclusive for people of all abilities, instead of trying to check off accessibility requirements.


Tell us about the process of updating the Inclusive Fitness Standard. What has changed since the last time the standard was updated?

Standards are often in a state of constant revision, meaning that as soon as there’s a published version, there’s a new draft document being updated. Why? Because the standards writing process is often many years long!

Standards are often created by balanced committees so that all stakeholders affected can be heard/represented in the process. In addition, we have to come to a consensus about what is covered, what requirements are created, what methods are proscribed, etc. As a national standard, we have to go through several different types of ballots/reviews (committee, board, public), and each of those takes several weeks. Then there’s the process of getting the document ready for each one of those ballots and for publication. In short, after it is decided that a standard update is needed, it can take up to a year to publish the updated standard.

During the time it takes for the standard to be released, new information to improve the next version often comes to light, or the committee will come to more agreement on focus areas that didn’t make it into the last version, kicking off our process all over again.


How do you hope people will use the standard to improve inclusivity in the gym or fitness setting?

So many different types of people can use the standard!

Fitness facility owners can use the RESNA IF-1 standard to cast a vision for inclusive fitness at their facility. The standard includes information about common barriers that can be eradicated through policy making, facility layout, choice of inclusive fitness equipment, staff and trainer training, and inclusive dissemination of facility information. The standard includes ideas and references to resources for marketing inclusive fitness facilities to target audiences, such as people with impairments or disabilities and physical and occupational therapists who might refer potential new members. Following this standard shows compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement for state and local governments, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to provide equal opportunity for people with disabilities.

The RESNA IF-1 standard provides trainers and staff with information about what creates an inclusive environment. Additionally, RESNA IF-1 provides an extensive list of current regulations, standards, guidelines, and best practices to help staff and trainers meet the needs of clients.

Advocacy groups and other advocates—whether disability advocates or fitness advocates—can use the RESNA IF-1 standard to gain insight into the needs of users across the inclusive fitness spectrum and resources to inform policy makers, fitness facility owners, and other decision makers of possible solutions to barriers in the fitness world. They can also use RESNA IF-1 to help promote and cast a vision for the importance of inclusive fitness environments. Advocacy groups focused on providing information to people with various impairments and disabilities can provide information about what their members can search for and request in fitness environments.

Fitness facility members and users—including people with impairments or disabilities—can use RESNA IF-1 as a powerful resource for requesting what they need throughout the fitness environment—inclusive policies, changes to the built environment or internal facility layout, trainers and staff trained in providing an inclusive environment, or information disseminated in an accessible format.

Policy makers should read and use the information in the RESNA IF-1 standard to understand the fitness needs of a large and growing number of constituents and clients. Supporting a healthy community means supporting inclusive fitness opportunities. Policy makers will benefit from knowing what makes fitness equipment inclusive, what creates an inclusive fitness environment, what the international community has accomplished in the inclusive fitness arena, and what regulatory changes at their level of government or in their organization would result in being a world leader in providing their constituents or clients the best possible inclusive fitness opportunities.

Academic researchers and students will benefit from the work the RESNA IF committee has done to document existing literature regarding inclusive fitness and to identify future research needs. Many of the resources listed in RESNA IF-1 Section 2 document further research to be done.


How did you get involved with the Standards Committee on Inclusive Fitness?

By lucky chance! When I started working for Beneficial Designs, Inc., RESNA IF was led by Seanna Kringen, and RESNA IF-1 had not yet been completely drafted or published. She included me in a research project for the ASTM F08.30 committee (for fitness equipment) and also gave me a lot of information from the committee to distill into the first drafts of Sec. 1 and Sec. 2, so I became the technical editor for RESNA IF-1:2018. When she was ill and passed away in 2019, I became the main representative for Beneficial Designs, and the committee elected me chair later that year.

Personally, though, I practiced martial arts many years ago at a dojo that was inclusive (although we didn’t have the terminology then!) and I was a member at a CrossFit box for several years. I saw first-hand the effects of a welcoming atmosphere and an attitude of “let’s see how we can make this work best for this individual.” Both fitness facilities had members with a wide range of ages and abilities. I utilized various types of accommodations in both facilities as I needed them, but felt welcome and was a part of the fitness “family.”


How can RESNA members get involved in the Standards Committee on Inclusive Fitness?

That’s an easy answer—go fill out the membership application. My contact information is also there if you have questions about what you might be able to contribute. Volunteering is not a large time commitment; for most members the commitment is less than three hours in any month.


How have you benefited by volunteering within the RESNA community?

I am constantly learning from my fellow committee members! I am also looking forward to learning more about what a larger number of people with impairments and disabilities want to know about fitness centers. We plan to put out a survey soon regarding which information about inclusive fitness centers to provide (and where!) so that people with disabilities and impairments can most easily find inclusive fitness centers that meet their needs.


Do you have advice for others looking to get involved in RESNA’s standard committees or other volunteer opportunities?

Reach out to the committee chair and dive in! Be willing to learn from your fellow committee members, but don’t be intimidated. If you’re passionate about a subject, you probably have a lot of valuable information and ideas to contribute.

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