Aspire’s InstructAbility Report: Disabled People Working in Leisure


From Spinal Injury to Fitness Entrepreneur


Meet Wendy Hall, a fitness professional with a unique insight into the leisure sector from both sides of the fence and who is not afraid to knock the fence down!


In 2008 I never imagined I would be where I am today. I went to the gym five to six times a week, did many classes, used weights and had taught exercise classes in the past.  Never did I imagine that an accident would change all that overnight, and not only that, but would also change so many lives and lifestyles from there forward. 


This incredible journey all started 10 years ago,  I had just moved into a new home with my partner, and was gaining experience with West Midlands Ambulance Service with plans to become a Paramedic. Then one day out of the blue I had a vasa vagal episode, which apparently is common in healthy fit people. This occurs when there is a small change in body temperature which causes light-headedness, faint like symptoms or passing out. Unfortunately for me, this happened at the top of a full flight of stairs....and a few seconds later I found myself unable to move at the bottom of the stairs.


I had broken my neck and sustained a spinal cord injury. Surgeons had to operate that same day, grafting bone from my hip and inserting a credit card size metal plate into my neck. 


After several months and eventually coming home from hospital, I started to find things I could face doing. Reaching 2014 and with lots of support I found some volunteer work I could do, mostly online with Aspire spinal injury charity.  Aspire had also by then started running their InstructAbility courses, offering disabled people Gym Instructor training with YMCAfit to help build confidence and encourage them to start a career in the leisure industry. For me, I saw this as the best opportunity to return to something I missed so much and had all but given up on the hope of doing anything like it again. 


The InstructAbility programme was hosted at Portway Lifestyle Centre, an accessible leisure facility in Sandwell. The course was hard work... I never anticipated how tired I would be! It was the first real challenge I had set my mind to. (Well, aside from learning to walk, getting out of bed and making it to the toilet...but that’s another story, and still in the making!) Following the training we undertook a work placement for twelve weeks in a real gym, with real people! I had decided I wanted to make it work, whatever that would take. I made sure I could shadow any of the gym staff working, slowly building my confidence to be able to speak to people again. I could see a bit of the old me returning, and gym members would speak to me like they did any other staff. I had almost forgotten about my 'disability'...or at least until I got home. Nope, still there and I was always exhausted and sore.


I was, and am more determined to make all abilities seen and heard in the gym and in classes too. I have met some incredibly talented and motivated individuals who have positively thrived on the fact that I have been a presence and a constant for them in their gym. Something they never thought would happen, neither did I at one time.  I always said from that point on, that every gym should have a Wendy!! (That’s an instructor with mixed ability). The benefits are priceless for them and me.


I delivered inclusive one to one sessions for clients and they became so popular, I decided to design a class for us all to work together. When I proposed this structure to some leisure managers the response was largely what I expected;

Me - 'Can I start a class for mixed abilities?'

Gaffer - 'We don't do that'

Me - 'I know'

Gaffer – ‘Disabled people get a free pass, so it is not going to generate any income’

Me –  ‘Not everyone qualifies for that and people are willing to pay.’

Gaffer - 'How's the class going to work if everyone's different?'

Me - 'Leave that to me. I can teach it'.

…..So they left it to me, and I did just that. I developed a group exercise class that enables people of all abilities to work out together.


Three years later...... I run classes that are bigger than ever! I have up to twenty participants in a single session. Everyone is different, even if they have the same injury or health condition, everyone is individual and works at their own pace.


My class was never advertised 'officially', just word of mouth and my own encouragement to those I met in the gym that wanted to work with us and try a class. It's now THE class everyone knows about and wants to join in with. I still get asked, 'how does it work?'....... My answer is always the same, ‘we all work together -like any other class, and we all do what we can- like any other class.’


Hilary Farmiloe, Manager of the InstructAbility Programme at Aspire, says,


“We are so proud of Wendy’s determination to succeed. We need more people like her challenging the status quo and pushing the sector to develop more inclusive exercise opportunities. A positive, ‘can do’ attitude is what the fitness industry needs, with an understanding that it is possible for everyone to join in and exercise together whatever their ability. It appears there are still too many leisure managers with stagnant ideas about how things should work, who do not readily embrace or drive change in this area. I have no doubt that if we can get a ‘Wendy’ in every leisure facility, we can speed up this desired vision of the future.”


Wendy has recently developed her classes called FUNction Fitness into a CIMSPA recognised training programme to enable other fitness professionals to learn how to deliver inclusive exercise classes that are fun, effective and accessible to all abilities. The new CPD module will be available to anyone with an existing Level 2 instructor qualification and who wants to add a FUNction Fitness class to their timetable. A monthly subscription will provide access to inclusive exercise guidance and routines.


Tara Dillon, CIMSPA CEO commented:


“It’s great to see programmes like FUNction Fitness gain CIMSPA recognition.  Increasing the pool of instructors who can deliver inclusive exercise classes will help our sector continue to widen access to physical activity, whatever a person’s abilities or experience. Congratulations to Wendy for creating such a compelling mix of exercise and group motivation.”



There is no better testimony that inclusive exercise opportunities are in demand, than from the customers themselves. Ms Donald, a member of the FUNction Fitness expressed not only the benefit of the classes to herself but how it can also encourage friends and family to engage too. She said,


"Wendy is committed to the core in helping people to achieve their goals in health and fitness; I’ve seen her work her clients to the max, which I like. I acquired my disability seven years ago and have had many peaks and troughs along the way, so finally getting to the gym has been a hugely positive thing. I felt great during the session and fantastic after the session, it gave me a huge amount of drive to get fit. Because I have a lot of on-going issues pertaining to my disability it’s hard to get motivated some days, however; I now plan to make this a regular thing, and get involved with circuits, then build up from there. Thank you so much Wendy, putting disabled people firmly on the ‘health and fitness’ map, even my boyfriend is going to join the gym.”



It appears that Wendy is already succeeding in her ambition to make people with mixed abilities more visible in the fitness environment, not as anything special, but just working hard, working out and having fun together, the way it should be.


Aspire is already planning to train staff and InstructAbility graduates in FUNction Fitness by hosting a course in London in September. Any instructors interested in booking onto any FUNction Fitness CPD courses can contact Wendy at [email protected] or via website