Fit for life

Graeme Turner
Keeping fit when you are a person with a disability can be tough. I spoke to Penny about her fitness program through Scope Victoria, which has support staff to help when needed. I also spoke to Ramona, who has vision impairment and does the Keiser program, which offers a trainer to monitor her workouts and to help place her hands correctly on the gym equipment. Both recommend regular fitness training with specialist instructors as it is good for both body and mind.
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Graeme Turner on 12/02/2013
Girl doing sit ups with a personal trainer helping

Many people who have disabilities find it difficult to maintain a regular fitness program

I love boxing because I got given from one of the staff new boxing gloves and a pad, you know, that you hit. I love doing that, says Penny Clough, a client at disability agency Scope Victoria who has balance issues.

Scope Victoria fitness programs

Many people who have disabilities find it difficult to maintain a regular fitness program. So how do they manage to stay in some degree of good physical condition? In this article I take a look at a couple of approaches to keeping fit. Penny takes part in Scope Victoria fitness programs twice a week, working with an instructor and with the help of volunteers. I'm one of the lucky ones, Penny states, because I can sort of hold on and grab and all that, so I'm all right.

Though the program works for her, Penny laments the lack of physiotherapist support for others with more serious conditions. Without the right training, the Scope staff are limited in how they can support those with more serious physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. Such clients often have hands that are clenched in one position without the option of movement. Although groups are kept to five clients or less so they can be offered support, Penny sees more challenges to maintaining fitness for people with limited mobility as they become older.

Despite her concern about staff levels, Penny appreciates those who are helping her. Oh they're very good, and if you do have any queries, there are always staff from the gym hanging around. Penny also takes the plunge, including swimming in her fitness regime. I love it - in the hot weather, she enthuses. Oh I do my backstroke. I do that. And I kick my legs a lot.

Keiser strengthening programs

Taking on a gym training program can also be a challenge for those with vision impairment. How do you move safely around a group of training machines if you can't see them? As a person with vision impairment, Ramona Mandy has found the Keiser program particularly helpful. She experienced a hip injury and as a result, undertook initial strengthening of her upper body through exercises that promoted blood flow and therefore healing.

There's never been any question of accommodating my needs as a vision impaired person, she says. During her two sessions a week, the trainers position her hands correctly on the equipment before she starts her exercises.  If it's a new instructor, says Ramona, I'll give them tips, like, feel free to ask my any questions about my blindness or when we go around if we're going through narrow spaces I'll ask them to guide me in this way or put my hand on bits of obstacles so I avoid bumping my head.

Ramona finds the assistance of the instructor valuable in orientating her around the machines, adjusting settings, timing exercises and making a note of her achievements. She also appreciates that the centre is not rocked by the usual disco gym music.

Blind and fit

While the program does not necessarily yield quick results, she now feels stronger and is working towards the secondary goal of hiking with her partner. I would certainly recommend it not only for its physical benefits, but the people and the principles behind the program. I've never had any unpleasant experiences – apart from the workout itself, which is hard work.

I myself, as a person with vision impairment, rashly put up my hand to be a volunteer running mate through Blind Sports Victoria. The wind on my face might be quite exhilarating as we push through the pain barrier, but the vagaries of weather can mean the odd abandoned run - in favour of a cup of tea. What hard work.

Penny is clear in her encouragement of those with disability, saying, I just reckon everyone who gets a chance to exercise at gyms should go for it!

Learn more about Keiser preventative strength programs at

For more information about Scope Victoria, visit

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