Health & Well-being7th September 2014

Wellness Centre Taking Deaf Clients' Health Needs Seriously

The Shipley and Saltaire Wellness Centre attract deaf clients through their thoughtful approach

by Sarah Lawrence

Not all that long ago, I contacted a major fitness centre company to ask whether or not they welcomed Deaf customers. Despite the provisions of anti discrimination and equality law, I had a short response which basically said, “No, we are not Deaf friendly.” I didn’t join. Along with the wider issues involved with health and well-being, deaf access to facilities and information has been sub-standard for many years.

Consequently, when I was told about a wellness centre in West Yorkshire that offered deaf friendly classes I had to find out more. The Shipley and Saltaire Wellness Centre is just north of Bradford. Run by husband and wife team Nicola and David Proctor, the Centre provides fitness classes as well as providing information about nutrition, weight management and leading a healthy lifestyle.

With long-established connections to the local Deaf community through Nicola’s sister Helen Lynch and her work with deaf youngsters, the feedback they had was that deaf people were interested in what the wellness centre had to offer, but that they may not be able to follow the instructions. Helen had first learned to sign 19 years previously and had been working with deaf youngsters since then. To support her work with the Prism Youth Project, Nicola had started to sign 6 years ago, so between them, the plan was hatched to offer the Wellness Centre services in a deaf friendly way.

Initially, only the fitness classes were offered, but this has now extended to the workshops as well, providing deaf customers access to all that the Wellness Centre has to offer. I asked David why he thought it was important for his centre to become deaf friendly. “Deaf people are just as conscious of their health and weight as anyone else,” he told me. “Helen’s co-youth worker, Linda Chester pointed out that they often feel excluded from mainstream fitness activities, because the classes rely on coaches shouting out instructions for the group to follow. Even if someone is lip-reading, they are likely to get left behind, which can make them feel self-conscious, so it tends to exclude them from taking part. With the sign-supported classes, the deaf members are able to follow the routines, as the instructions are signed at the same time as they are spoken.”

Watch the promotional video for the Shipley and Saltaire Wellness Centre and you will be captured by the energy and enthusiasm of all concerned in helping people lead healthy lifestyles, as well as those benefiting from the classes. From a Deaf lady’s perspective, Gemma who is Deaf sums it up nicely, “I feel more positive in myself, and have lost some weight. The BalletBeFit class is very hard but I have now got used to it. My bad back in also now feeling better.”

The classes are open to anyone, regardless of age or fitness level, with a personal one-to-one approach taken with everyone who attends the Centre. 

Where the customer is Deaf, Nicola or Helen who also now coach at the Centre, will work with them to explain everything, give information and put in place a healthy living plan. In addition to the classes themselves, there is also a strong social culture, with people enjoying a chat and a re-hydrating drink after they have finished a class.

Deaf people who attend classes join in with hearing classmates but signed instruction is given at the same time as voice. As David explained, “The idea is for us to be inclusive, we all work together with support where needed.” Two types of fitness classes are available, CobraFit and BalletBeFit. CobraFIT is High Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIIRT) which burns approx 500 calories in a 45 minute class. With the correct nutrition afterwards you can continue to burn fat for a further 36 hours. It is a group exercise which is done outside for maximum effect.

BalletBeFit is an amazing workout. It is suitable for beginners through advanced. It is a toning, sculpting exercise which improves posture and flexibility, strengthens your core, arms and legs. It also improves your energy levels. It is suitable for any age and ability, where people work to their own limits, improving week on week.

The point of the Wellness Centre is that it is not just about fitness, it is about leading a healthy lifestyle, making changes that are sustainable. “We also run ‘nutrition blitz’ classes,” David told me. “This is a different presentation every week to do with keeping healthy. Topics include, hydration tips, why some exercise can be bad for you and 11 carbohydrates to avoid. It is a power point presentation but we have signers available if needed.”

The work of Nicola and David in making their Wellness Centre accessible to everyone in the community has rightly attracted some plaudits and it is pleasing to learn that they have reached the final stages of the Signature Awards for their deaf friendly approach. “We are absolutely delighted and proud to have been nominated for the Signature Award,” David said proudly. “All the nominations deserve to win and just to be in the shortlist is an honour, as we feel we must be doing something right.”

Asked about the work of the Wellness Centre Lee Dolby from UK Deaf Sport commented, “It is fantastic to see a fitness centre developing activity with Deaf people in mind and this shows that if you take simple steps, becoming DEAFinitely inclusive benefits everyone”. He went on to say, “We hope that through the development of the DEAFinitely Inclusive Networks we can share these examples and encourage others to follow suit so that we can develop opportunities across the country that look at, address and cater for the needs of the deaf community that want to become more physically active and enjoy the social benefits that sport offers.”

With no membership fee, people using the classes pay £6 for each session they attend. But it is in the post session activity than I think a key benefit is being realised. The options and benefits of drinks are one part of that, but the social interaction between Deaf and hearing is standout at the Shipley and Saltaire Wellness Centre. Demonstrating a true community ethos, the introduction of deaf friendly classes has resulted in people attending the classes with the Deaf attendees starting to learn sign language so that they can chat to them afterwards.

“This has been an enlightening experience for everyone, as many of our hearing clients are now trying to learn basic sign language so that they can chat more easily with their deaf friends,” David explained. “Each week they learn a little bit more, which they put in to practice next time they attend a class.”

The closing date for voting in the Signature Awards is the 3rd October, with the winners being announced on the 10th October and we hope David, Nicola and the rest of the Wellbeing Team get some great news.

Still wondering whether this type of Wellness Centre is for you. This is what Linda had to say. “I lost 3 stone with exercise and Herbalife. My health is now great. I had a problem with my hip before, but now there is no problem. I feel great!” Hopefully, other fitness and wellness centres will recognise the importance of providing classes and support that support the communication needs of their local community including Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.

Having set up the wellness centre on their own, their deaf friendly ethos has come to the notice of UK Deaf Sport who are keen to spread the word about Shipley and Saltaire, both to promote general fitness and healthy living but also to promote the small steps that can be taken to open up any sporting class to Deaf and Hard of Hearing particpants. In David's view, what they are developing at his centre can be replicated anywhere and at SLFirst we hope to learn of a more deaf friendly practices in the coming months and years.

To find out more about the Shipley and Saltaire Wellness Centre visit their website and Facebook. There is also a promotional video on the website which has subtitles and some parts are signed.
Facebook: Shipley&Saltaire Wellness Centre

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Health & Well-being

7th September 2014