Everyone fits in at S'pore's first inclusive gym, iFit

FITNESS FOR ALL:Christopher Ng (middle) and Mr Loh (right) trying out the exercise equipment at the all-inclusive gym, iFit. Located at Lengkok Bahru, the gym welcomes people with and without disabilities.

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 at 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 added: "A big plus point of the gym 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 folk 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 standing and using the chair for support.

Ku Geok Boon, chief executive 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."

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

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


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