2008-09 Issue: Back-to-School Basics for Fitness Professionals

F.I.T.T. Column September 2008: Back-to-School Basics for Fitness Professionals

Associate Director, Amy Rauworth
Associate Director, Amy Rauworth
Yes, it is that time of year again! Students are headed back to the classroom and ready to learn as much as they can! Like these children, many of us are lifetime learners or professional students. We are always looking for ways to further our knowledge, improve our services, and advance our careers.

One way for fitness professionals to separate themselves from the pack is to seek further education. For some, this might mean a bachelor or master's degree program or a certification that adds value to your services as a personal trainer or fitness professional. NCHPAD is proud to be able to offer a specialty certification with the American College of Sports Medicine. The ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT) is a fitness professional involved in developing and implementing an individualized exercise program for a person who may have a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability, who is healthy or has medical clearance to perform independent physical activity.

To learn more about the CIFT, go to http://www.vue.com/acsm/cift/. If you are already a CIFT and are looking for continuing education opportunities, or if you want to learn more about physical activity and disability, the Inclusive Fitness Conference track of Club Industry 2008 is for you! To sign up, please download this form.

Separate yourself from the pack and learn these Disability Basics!

When working with a client with a disability, use these basic communication tips:

  • Always treat the client with same respect as others.
  • Let the person make his or her own decisions about what he or she can and cannot do.
  • Be protective, but not overprotective.
  • Relax; be yourself.
  • Speak directly to the individual, not the attendant or interpreter.
  • Offer assistance, but wait for acceptance before actually assisting.
  • Follow the person's cues.
  • Allow extra time if necessary to perform a task or exercise.
  • Establish open communication about abilities and limitations.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions, respectfully.
  • Do not be afraid to shake hands if the person appears to have little grasping ability.
  • Do not mistake a person's disability for a serious disease or illness.
  • Use the same established policies for health forms, membership, and waivers.
  • Consult with others when needing additional information on a specific condition. Information sharing is key!
  • Do not assume additional disabilities due to the presence of one. For example, a person using a wheelchair does not necessarily have a cognitive impairment.


Disability-friendly language involves placing the person first and is referred to as Person-First Language. The chart below demonstrates appropriate person-first terminology.

Words to Avoid

Words to Say

Brain damaged

Person with brain injury

Deaf person

Person who is deaf or person with a hearing impairment


Wheelchair-bound Wheelchair-confined

Uses a wheelchair



Physically challenged



Person with a disability (or name the disability)


Person without disability

Suffers from . . .

Person who has . . .

Mentally retarded

Person with an intellectual


Stroke victim

Stroke survivor

Suffers from . . .

Stricken with . . .

Person with . . .


Person with epilepsy/diabetes


Visual Impairments

  • Determine level of impairment (it is not always obvious and can range from low/limited vision to total blindness);
  • Always identify yourself and others in a group;
  • Say the name of the person to whom you are speaking;
  • Speak in a normal tone of voice;
  • Indicate when you are moving from one location to another;
  • Say when you are leaving;
  • Never pet or distract a working service animal or canine companion;
  • Give specific directions such as "left 10 feet" or "rotate clockwise;"
  • Be aware of alternative material formats and how to obtain them:
    American Foundation for the Blind
    Lighthouse International
    National Braille Association

Hearing Impairments

  • Determine level of impairment (can range from mild hearing loss to profound deafness);
  • Find out if the individual reads lips, uses hearing aids, sign language, interpreters, writes, speaks, or gestures by following his or her cues. If possible, make assistive devices available;
  • Speak in a normal tone of voice and directly to the person, not the interpreter;
  • Tell the person if you are having difficulty understanding;
  • Make sure you have his or her attention before beginning to speak;
  • Do not speak while you are writing;
  • Try to have important conversations in a one-on-one situation without background noise.
  • Be aware of communication aids and how to obtain them:
    National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
    Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. (TDI)
    Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Physical/Mobility Impairments

  • Always ask permission to move a person's assistive device;
  • When speaking with a person using a wheelchair, kneel or attempt to speak at the person's eye level;
  • Make sure the person is in a stable and supported position before speaking to them as movement may require total concentration;
  • Do not lean on any part of a wheelchair when speaking. The chair is considered part of the body space of the person;
  • Be aware of assistive equipment and devices and how to obtain them.

    Intellectual/Developmental/Cognitive Disabilities

    • Allow enough time to learn a new task;
    • Use repetition with precise language and simple words;
    • Give exact instructions and limit the number given at one time;
    • Treat adults as adults;
    • Do not pretend to understand if you do not.
    • Potential resource:
      The Arc of the United States

    Speech Disabilities

    • Speak as you would to anyone else, using normal tone of voice;
    • Give the person your undivided attention;
    • Tell the person if you do not understand;
    • Ask short questions that require brief answers or head nods;
    • ake pen and paper available if useful.

    Check out these other NCHPAD resources that can expand your disability knowledge:

    Ask the Expert: What Exercise Professionals Can Learn from their Clients at http://www.ncpad.org/375/2117/Ask~the~Expert~~What~Exercise~Professionals~Can~Learn~

    Use of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to Prepare Individualized Exercise Prescriptions for People with Disabilities at http://www.ncpad.org/407/2220/Use~of~the~International~Classification~of~Functioning~~

    Hiss, B. & Lawson, V. (2006). Disability Awareness and Customer Service. American College of Sports Medicine's Certified News, 16, 2-4.

    North Carolina Office on Disability and Health (NCODH)

    If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at amyr@lakeshore.org

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