“At first, I thought people wouldn’t listen to me because of my impairment,” says Gary Puddifoot.
“But through the training and support I received from InstructAbility, my confidence as an instructor grew and I found I could relate to people better because I understood the challenges that they were facing.”
Gary was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 10 years ago and is a full-time wheelchair user. He now works as a gym instructor in Stratford – but getting a job in the fitness industry wasn’t without its challenges.
This is where InstructAbility stepped in.
Path to employment
The training programme, run by spinal injury charity Aspire and funded by the National Lottery, provides disabled people with a path to employment.
Research shows there is a significant gap between the number of disabled and non-disabled people taking part in sport.
My confidence as an instructor grew and I found I could relate to people better because I understood the challenges that they were facing
Gary Puddifoot, fitness instructor
Issues around accessibility, how disabled people see themselves and the attitudes of other people are just some of the barriers disabled people face when getting involved in sport and activity.
InstructAbility helps break down these barriers, creating a more inclusive experience and encouraging other disabled people to enjoy an active lifestyle.
It has now received national recognition by being shortlisted for ‘Best Sport Project’ at this year’s National Lottery Awards.
National Lottery players raise over £30 million each week for projects across the UK and the Awards are an annual search to find the UK’s favourite Lottery-funded projects.
Winners in each category are decided by public vote – and with the deadline for this year's awards on 27 July, there are just seven days left for you to cast your vote.
InstructAbility participants, who have impairments ranging from physical and sensory to mental health conditions, complete a YMCAfit training course to qualify as gym instructors with a disability specialism.
Following a 12-week voluntary placement, they are encouraged to get into paid work, with many developing into group exercise instructors, personal trainers, rehabilitation specialists and setting up their own businesses.
InstructAbility is carrying out vital work to diversify our workforce by helping disabled people to build careers based solely on merit
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
“InstructAbility is carrying out vital work to diversify our workforce by helping disabled people to gain the skills and build careers in the physical activity sector based solely on merit,” says Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
“If every organisation in the physical activity sector shares a fraction of this commitment, we can increase diversity and demonstrate that this truly is a forward-thinking sector.”
Making a difference
Thanks to InstructAbility, more than 300 people have qualified as fitness professionals and volunteered in leisure facilities across the country.
Instructors have delivered 70,000 fitness sessions with disabled clients and helped to raise awareness of disability among staff and other customers. Half of those taking part have since moved into paid employment.
“I absolutely love my job,” says Gary.
“I have a desire to get those with impairments or health conditions involved with fitness – and my story goes to prove that disability does not dictate what you can and can’t do in life.”