Inclusive gym that caters for folk with disabilities

Mr Colin Loh (in wheelchair) trying out the new iFit inclusive gym. The fitness centre has features such as machines with removable seats for wheelchair users, and Braille dots (below) on its treadmill user panels.
Mr Colin Loh (in wheelchair) trying out the new iFit inclusive gym. The fitness centre has features such as machines with removable seats for wheelchair users, and Braille dots on its treadmill user panels.ST PHOTOS: JOYCE FANG
Mr Colin Loh (in wheelchair) trying out the new iFit inclusive gym. The fitness centre has features such as machines with removable seats for wheelchair users, and Braille dots (below) on its treadmill user panels.
Mr Colin Loh trying out the new iFit inclusive gym. The fitness centre has features such as machines with removable seats for wheelchair users, and Braille dots (above) on its treadmill user panels.ST PHOTOS: JOYCE FANG

Machines feature aids for deaf and blind people, as well as the elderly, and may be modified for users

Seeing wheelchair users lifting weights alongside their able-bodied friends could become more common soon, with the opening of Singapore's first inclusive fitness centre today.

The iFit gym in Lengkok Bahru is open to all, from the deaf and blind to those with intellectual disabilities and the elderly.

It has several features which make it disabled-friendly.

Most of the doors slide sideways, instead of opening outwards. Gym machines can also be modified - their seats are removable - so that wheelchair users can use them, too.

For people who are visually handicapped, there are Braille dots on the treadmill user panels and some machines are in contrasting colours. For deaf people, a "hearing induction loop" system has been implemented so that, with a hearing aid, they can better hear directions from fitness instructors who speak into a microphone.

Without such a system, they would hear the instructions as one of several ambient sounds - which could include background music and other people's voices.

For people with mobility challenges, such as the elderly or those with physical disabilities, there are machines from Finland that use an air-pressure system which is gentler on the muscles and joints.

Wheelchair user and corporate support officer Colin Loh, 32, who has spina bifida, likes the spaciousness of the gym , as it allows him to move around easily.

He said: "A big plus point is that literally anyone can use it, regardless of their age or ability. It offers me another opportunity to interact with my able-bodied friends."

The gym is sited within a community space set up by SG Enable, a government-established body that offers services for people with disabilities. The iFit gym is run by Care Advisors Recruitment Enterprise (Care), a social enterprise that provides caregivers for the elderly.

The 21 regular and specialised machines in the gym cost a total of $250,000, funded partly by the National Council of Social Service.

Standard Chartered Bank donated another $250,000 for an outdoor fitness corner and fitness classes for 1,200 low-income elderly over three years.

Fitness instructors from Care have been trained by staff from KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Changi General Hospital, to design exercise programmes for the elderly and people with disabilities.

These include chair aerobics, done while seated or while standing and using the chair for support.

Ms Ku Geok Boon, chief executive officer of SG Enable, told The Straits Times: "Besides helping them to keep fit, these programmes can contribute towards developing work stamina and complement job training.

"With this holistic approach, we hope we can help people with disabilities live and work well."

For a start, iFit has been reaching out to people going for job training in the SG Enable community space.

For instance, since June, a few trainees from Soul Food - a social enterprise which runs a restaurant and trains people with intellectual disabilities and autism - have been taking part in a warm-up routine that helps them improve their focus and attention span.

Membership fees range from $49 to $115 a month, depending on how long the membership is for and whether it is to use the gym, for studio classes or both. Walk-in rates are $5 or $15 per entry.

People with disabilities and senior citizens aged above 50 pay $40 a month but those in the low-income group pay $5 a month.

While the gym operator looks forward to working with people with special needs, Care's managing director Satyaprakash Tiwari said: "We also welcome other people interested in pursuing a healthy lifestyle to explore what iFit offers."

For more information, visit the gym's open house on Saturday and Sunday, from 8.30am to 7.30pm, or check out www.ifit.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Inclusive gym that caters for folk with disabilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe