Access Gyms: Making VI Fitness Better

Blind and partially sighted (BPS) people joined London Sight Loss Council (SLC) this month at their ‘Access Gyms: Making VI fitness better’ event to learn how they can get more active at leisure facilities and gyms across the capital.

The event, held at Better Gym, aimed to increase people’s confidence to access leisure facilities. It also aimed to break down some of the barriers that BPS people face.

About the event

Our expert panel of guest speakers kick-started the event discussing their work in the industry. Speakers included Adriana Duarte and Sue Robinson from Better Gym; Martin Symcox, Head of Leisure and Sports Development at Thomas Pocklington Trust; Louise Dickson, CEO of Illuminate Freedom; and Davinder Kullar, London SLC member.


Louise, Illuminate Freedom, is leading a group of 5 men and women in a conga-style chain as part of an exercise class.

Louise Dickson, Illuminate Freedom, leading a group of people during an exercise class


Louise spoke about the inclusive dance programmes designed for BPS people that Illuminate Freedom deliver online. These accessible sessions, provide more in-depth explanations of the dance moves and an element of tactile teaching.

Adriana and Sue spoke about things they have implemented to make their facilities more accessible at Better Gym. This includes providing walkie talkies so visually impaired (VI) guests can call a member of staff once they have finished using a piece of gym kit and want to move to another.

London SLC members delivered a vision awareness session to Better Gym staff to support their work. Better Gym want to learn continue to learn from BPS people’s lived experience so that the right adaptions are made across their centres.

Davinder, London SLC member, then spoke about his personal experiences of using a gym. He spoke about the importance of communicating the support you need directly with staff and of planning ahead. Davinder reminded people that it’s important not to worry about asking for help and that many people (not just VI) can be nervous about trying something new.

Following the presentations, Davinder led an open conversation with the audience on their experiences of using gym facilities. Attendees were able to talk openly about the challenges they face, before putting forward positive ideas to overcome these.

Attendees then had the opportunity to participate in a touch tour of the gym and facilities and join a VI Zumba session. After the event, attendees were able to take part in an optional swim session.


Susana Valenzuela from better Gym, talking blind and partially sighted attendees through the gym equipment at Better Gym.

Susana Valenzuela, Better Gym, during the touch tour session of the facilities

Feedback from the event

“For me it was a wakeup call, saying ‘get in there and do it!’ It has been very motivational for me.” – Paresh


“I thought it was very informative and it showed that progress is being made. Allowing people with visual impairments to access different centres.” – Anonymous


“It’s very encouraging to see a gym wanting to be more accessible. There should be more of these sessions held London wide.” – Jennifer

Martin Symcox, Head of Leisure and Sport Development at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said:

“I was delighted to be part of the discussion about leisure centre and gym accessibility at Pancras Square. For someone who is blind or partially sighted, a visit to a leisure centre or gym can be a challenging experience. It was pleasing to hear how the staff at the Better Gym facility had embraced these challenges and had already made arrangements for a welcoming and accessible visit.

“Participants shared their own experiences about how being active has helped them in everyday life. Staying active in whatever way you are most comfortable with is the key.

“Having accessible facilities can play a huge part in someone’s journey. Operators of leisure centres and gyms can make small adjustments to their facilities or activities to make them accessible to everyone, they just need ask what will work best.”

Adriana Duarte, Community Sports Officer at Better Gym, said:

“I am so proud to have been part of this event and for the relationship I have built with London Sight Loss Council. The event was incredibly insightful and the feedback from visually impaired participants is so valuable to us in ensuring that our centres are as accessible as possible. We want to ensure that all disabled people can access leisure facilities in a dignified way. I look forward to continuing this partnership and carrying on learning about how to better support blind and partially sighted people.”

Louise Dickson, CEO of Illuminate Freedom, added:

“It was great to be part of such a fun and important event which shared what Thomas Pocklington Trust and Sight Loss Councils are doing to assist gyms to become more accessible.

“It was also great that the afternoon helped to inspire and empower blind and partially sighted people to be more proactive in communicating their needs. By doing this, they are helping to promote positive change.”

From left to right: London SLC coordinator Liam, Sue, Better Gym, Davinder, London SL member, Adriana, Better Gym, Steve, London SLC member, Luke Blake, Better Gym, Vicky, London SLC member, Susana Valenzuela, better Gym, and Lucy, Senior Engagement Manager for the South.

From left to right: London SLC coordinator Liam, Sue, Better Gym, Davinder, London SLC member, Adriana, Better Gym, Steve, London SLC member, Luke Blake, Better Gym, Vicky, London SLC member, Susana Valenzuela, Better Gym, and Lucy, Senior Engagement Manager for the South.

Join us

Are you blind or partially sighted, and passionate about creating positive change for others? We are currently recruiting new members across our Sight Loss Councils.

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Publication date: 21 March 2023

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