Want to Work With The Disabled? There’s A Certification For That!

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  • Want to Work With The Disabled? There’s A Certification For That!

Inclusiveness means everyone

If you want to train disabled people or your fitness club could grow by catering to special populations as a market niche, there’s a certification that enables you to do just that. It’s the Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT) certification, which was developed by the American College of Sports Medicine, in collaboration with the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability.

It’s about helping people

Disability Fitness

I’m sure you’d agree that, as a fitness trainer or gym owner, it never hurts to have additional tools in your toolbox. You really will benefit if you can cater to specific segments of the fitness market. It’s a competitive field and trainers and owners need to be able to stand out from the crowd.

From the perspective of the fitness center owner you want to be as inclusive as possible, to find as many clients as possible. And then there’s that dreaded word … compliance. In this case, the need to conform to government imposed regulation on accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

Your business is ADA ready, right?

The provisions of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act stipulate that you have to pay the cost of making your business accessible to people with disabilities just to open your doors, so why not be proactive and staff your gym with experts in the field?

The final point I want to make before I get to the point is that, if you are at all like me, then you got into fitness training to have a rewarding career as a leader of people as well as earn your daily bread. The more helpful you can be to the people who need help the most, the better right?

Special populations

The term special population covers a wide range of people. They can be seniors, survivors of cancer or other illnesses, people struggling to lose weight or those with some sort of physical, sensory or cognitive limitation, but who are otherwise fit. Special populations can be great additional market segments to pursue. However, you do pick up responsibilities and risks when you court special populations as markets.

Additionally, if you’re a fitness center owner then you are going to consider your facility in terms of resources and what sort of activities are going to fit your space. Whether you have a pool or floor space for group activities like yoga that is going to influence your decisions about what market to go after. You may want to market to seniors with low impact group activities and make that a featured service, if it suits your market and you’ve got the floor space for the classes.


The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) works to initiate and coordinate health care program for people with disabilities. The concept of inclusiveness in health and fitness is something they’ve been working to promote nationwide.

They build local coalitions, information services and health communication networks in social media and develop guidelines to promote inclusive policies in the fitness community. That’s why they teamed up with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to create the (CIFT).

As an organization that provides exercise and sport science education goes, the ACSM is the largest in the world and they have a range of courses in addition to the CIFT. They provide certification for trainers and fitness instructors along with therapeutic, clinical and specialty certifications.

The CIFT certification

The partnership of these two dedicated organizations produced a very focused, in-depth certification for inclusive fitness training. This certificate is designed to help you work with people with a physical, sensory or cognitive disability.

The etiquette of working with disabilities is also taught. This gives trainers the social skills and sensitivity to work with clients in a way that communicates positive reinforcement and encouragement. It doesn’t sound like a big issue but people with disabilities struggle against stereotypes and frustrations that compound their physical challenges. For a trainer to connect, you have to have some insight into the experience.

Work with disabled is not for beginners

ACSM provides the syllabus and study resources including six 90 minute webinar lectures on the material. Certification is done by online examination through Pearson VUE and takes less than three hours to complete. The challenge lies in finding the time and discipline to complete the learning in preparation for the exam.

What makes CIFT a great option is that it’s an advanced qualification that can be promoted as career development for trainers and ensures that owners will have competent staff that can manage all liabilities and compliance issues. The CIFT exam is available for trainers who have already been certified by either the ACSM or the NCCA. It’s a prerequisite that you have attained at least personal trainer certification and current adult CPR certification.

There are lots of avenues for trainers to get specialized certification but CIFT is perhaps one of the most versatile. The intention is inclusion and support for most any client a trainer can conceivably encounter. For owners, having CIFT qualified trainers on site will make the business that much more competitive and help bring in those additional clients that will keep your gym buzzing.

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This blog originally published on Sept. 5, 2013 and has been revised Jan. 15, 2021