There are few places in the world that are what The Ability Center will be. I can speak from personal experience how difficult and expensive it can be to find a place to exercise, train, and compete when you use a wheelchair.
I have a mild form of muscular dystrophy and use an electric wheelchair. While surfing the internet one night about six years ago, I discovered wheelchair tennis. I was excited to find out that despite using an electric wheelchair, I could still compete in tennis tournaments around the world and get prize money and a world ranking. But before I could get on a court to play a real match, I had to get myself ready. That meant taking tennis lessons, getting in better shape, and figuring out how the heck to hold a tennis racket and steer my chair at the same time.
But when you have muscular dystrophy or any mobility-related impairment, the questions that should have easy answers, simply don’t. “Where can I exercise?” or “Where can I go swimming?” usually require a hunt and peck search for accessible gyms and pools.
When I asked these questions the first time, I looked around on the Internet and discovered that most gyms don’t readily specify that they are accessible. Usually it’s because a private gym’s definition of “accessible” means you can get in the door and maybe the bathrooms. But if there’s not equipment that a wheelchair user can roll-up to and start using, it’s technically not accessible.
Trying to find an accessible pool is a little bit easier, however, if pools in your local area do not explicitly state that they have a chair lift, you might be out of luck. Sometimes the pools even require you to make an appointment to use the chair lift so they can make sure their portable lift is at the pool you intend to swim at. You always just show up -- which is half the battle with doing exercise to begin with.
My point is that as a person with a disability, I’ve found it takes a lot of coordination to get an exercise regimen together. It shouldn’t be that difficult.
For those of you reading who are able-bodied, think about how the motivation to exercise can be squashed by the simplest of excuses, like “It’s raining out” or “I have to do my hair.” Well as a wheelchair user, those types of excuses creep in as well, but the legitimate obstacle caused by the question “Where can I go to exercise?” can be a much bigger deterrent.
In my opinion, access to exercise should be just as easy for people with disabilities as it is for able-bodied people. It should be just as easy to go to any pool and get in. It should be just as easy to use public exercise equipment. It shouldn’t be a wild goose chase to try and find a private gym with accessible equipment either.
So when I found out about the mission to create The Ability Center, I was immediately driven to donate a few bucks knowing how valuable this type of facility will be to local people with disabilities. It will improve their ability to exercise, it will improve their health, it will improve their lives. Being able to exercise and play wheelchair tennis did all of these things for me and I hope to share those experiences on the TAC blog in coming weeks.
I encourage you to spread the word about The Ability Center, not just to people you know with disabilities, but people in positions to help make this a reality.