Assistive Tech & ProductsLifestyleWellbeing & Fitness

Disability and exercise: can they go hand in hand?

In the second of our Nokia Accessibility technology series, Co-Editor Srin Madipalli tests out the Thera-Vital exercise bike, the latest in technology enabling people with mobility limitations to exercise.  

When it comes to exercise and fitness, I’ll be the first to confess that I procrastinate, dither and make any excuse to avoid having to do anything. Does this sound familiar?

By and large, the scope of exercise and activity available to me, as a wheelchair user with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, has always been limited. But then again, if truth be told, I have probably used this as an excuse to not make any effort to find out what can be done to help my physical condition.

Fitness and exercise is probably the only area of life I am particularly lazy with. I’m happy to work crazy hours long into the night and push myself beyond whatever boundary lies in front of me. But for some reason, this drive has always eluded me in relation to keeping myself in good condition.

Now it is probably a bit clichéd but one of my resolutions for 2012 was to change this. But how I go about doing this is the question. Well, super duper modern technology is the answer.

My first step is committing to stand a bit more in my wheelchair at least once a week for a short while. I have a standing frame on my Balder wheelchair which holds me in the standing position (without being strapped to the frame I would fall down like a tree as I cannot move my legs). While it’s a passive form of exercise (as my body is strapped tightly to the standing the frame) it does wonders for my joints and circulation.

When I first stood in my frame in January this year, it was the first time I had done so in a very long time. And it hurt, so I was only able to tolerate a few a minutes! Since January, I’ve kept to this weekly regime (mostly) and I am now able to stand in the frame for about 15. This might not sound like much, but it feels like a great personal achievement!

The second thing I set out to do was to find a way to get my arms and legs moving a bit more. As I have limited mobility with them, I would need to either have the help of someone else, or find a suitable machine, and this is where the Thera-Vital bike comes in.

At the Naidex Exhibition in London last year, my parents came across an exercise bike distributed by a company called Medicotech. This funky bike works to move my arms and legs for me, but also detect the small movements in my arms and legs that I can sometimes make, which would in turn make the bike turn faster.

After a trial with the bike back in January, I took the plunge and bought one. I started off really well, using the bike 2 – 3 times a week for 25 minutes each time. But unfortunately this has now lapsed to using it once a week for around 20 minutes as my fight against ‘laziness’ waivers ever so slightly.

While my initial enthusiasm for my New Year’s resolution may have waned (again, does this sound familiar?), I will persist with this and make sure that keeping in good shape and exercise becomes central to my day-to-day routine.

Other than sharing my personal disdain for exercise and trials to motivate myself, I want to highlight that there are amazing bits of technology out there that allow disabled people to have the same approach to fitness as everybody else.

If anyone knows of any other useful exercise and fitness technology, it would be great to hear about it!

By Srin Madipalli

This article was part of the Nokia Accessibility series.

Used this bike or similar exercise equipment? Let our Disability Horizons readers know your thoughts by leaving your comments below, emailing us at, tweeting us @DHorizons or messaging us on Facebook

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  1. As an actress, exercise is vital to helping me manage pain levels and improve stamina (often 15 hours on a film set will produce only 3-5 minutes of useable film). I live In a “new town” that prides itself on equality & accessibility. 20% of our local population have some form of disability.

    You’d think a place like this with 4,000 wheelchair-users would be well equipped with accessible gym facilities, wouldn’t you? Think again.

    The only gym I’ve been able to find with basic facilities like seats that slide out of the way (enabling me to stay in my wheelchair to work out) is the Aspire Gym in Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital. They specialise in spinal injuries and limb prostheses.

    They’re actually rather excellent with handcycles and the lot, but too far from me to be a viable option.

    1. Hi Melissa, where do you live?  The Inclusive Fitness Initaitive is always looking to advocate our principles and accredit more facilities…, particularly if there’s demand for the service.  Email the IFI at

  2. I am trying to help others to find a way to do some exercises ~ because there is plenty of evidence how important it is for a body to be moving regularly. The more disabled a person is, the more creative have to be the exercises. There are some fascinating studies that demonstrate that just thinking about and visualising exercises can have a real physical effect on muscles even if they have not been moved in fact.

    But perhaps more important is attitude. So many people ‘don’t like’ exercising and grumble about it before, during, and after exercising! The way to combat this is to change that negative internal dialogue to thinking ‘I love my exercises’ thus making it positively personal and not so general. Every time a negative thought is recognized, change to the positive.

    A quick way to start is by watching an exercise video and positively identifying with the actions. Do this regularly and establish a time frame you can then enter into physically when you are ready.

    Be patient with yourself and be careful. Don’t overdo it, don’t put yourself in pain, make it fun if you can, and do something – anything – to get moving even if it is only standing up and walking in place for 5 minutes, or if you can’t stand up, moving your shoulders and arms around for 5 minutes while you are sitting, or if you can’t do that then moving whatever you can move for 5 minutes.

    Also, instead of the usual counting to make sure you do enough repetitions, I recommend a simple set of sing-song affirmations. I use the following 12 statements to do 12 reps: “I am healthy, I am wealthy, I am wise / I am happy, I am loving, I am kind / I am young, I am strong, I am fit / I am awesome, I’m amazing, I am loved.” Use mine or change them and make up your own. Whatever works for you.

    I fell 4 years ago and broke my left shoulder, knee and ankle, and I would still be in bed and not walking if I had not been persistent in doing the movements given to me by the physiotherapist. I have also added other movements over the months to exercise every muscle and joint in my body. I do one hour every morning and I love my exercises!

    I was a grumbler myself until this happened but now I see the accident as the impetus to keep my body moving. I am 68 and really happy to be alive. I want to share my experiences and offer advice to others. It is possible to change but as we all know, the only way to do that is to do it!!

  3. I badly need to get back to my three times a week stint in David Lloyd Warrington and am just returning after an injury kept me away for four months, boy has the weight piled on ! I’d encourage any wheelchair user to give David Lloyd the once over. Access will not suit all in what really isnt a place designed for use by those with a range of disabilities but…. There are some small surprises. The “arm-bike” machine is a great way to get the pulse racing and a decent sweat on ! And I’ve only got the one arm so it’s hard going even on the lower settings ! Crucially the arm-bike has a design that can allow a wheelchair user to roll right up to the handles. You may need to chat with the staff to get this set up for you but it doesn’t take long and the seat removes quite easily in less than a minute so it’s no fuss.

    I find that I can also use David Lloyds mega multi gym thingie. I do sometimes need a bit of help setting it up but again it’s not that hard and the staff are very willing and never fail to help without making things over fussy. There’s usually a decent amount of space around this machine which is basically a load of differently weighted pulleys and all sorts of routines are possible from a wheelchair.

    Because I can jump out of my chair….well stagger / transfer relatively ok….I can use the ab crunch machine which if your not careful will catapult you across the gym but it’s a great workout. The pool is superb and I think most David Lloyds have a pool hoist though not sure if you must have it operated by a team member, otherwise pool access isn’t too hard via gentle steps. Changing rooms are as ever a bit of an issue. DL doesn’t seem to have bespoke disabled changing. Why is beyond me but instead they offer a very large family changing room which is private, has a good easy access shower but bizarrely, no lockers, forcing you to use those located outside the room itself. Or if like me just lob everything into your Everton bag and leave it on the back of a Jazzy power chair. Beware though, because it’s a family changing room DL insist on putting those wide plastic door hinge guards on a door that isn’t that wide in the first place. This means it’s a very tight squeeze for most chairs, even when I’m not using my manual one arm drive and have Jazzy which is narrower.

    DL is expensive but it has some quality about it and though it’s very limited it is possible to adapt and make a good fist of getting the most from the facility as a wheelchair user. Ah “adapt”, where have I heard that before ! Worth a try if you have one near you and can afford the eye watering fees.

    Cheers, Mark

  4. Can exercise go hand in hand? Yes, yes, yes. I suffered a severe stroke 5years ago that, at the time left me with no movement in any limbs on my left side, unable to get out of bed or do very little except feel sorry for myself. I was lucky enough to be transfered to a specialist rehab unit near Brighton where, with the excellent and professional help of the physios my road to some sort of recovery began. The hardest thing was learning to stand again let alone attempting to walk. Over the following weeks with daily physio and leg supports I began the long road to some sort of life. On discharge from hospital I was refered to my local gym by my doctor and again with luck had excellent support. Being capricorn and part Welsh I am very stubborn and with slow and mainly steady progress I can get around mainly unaided, although the left leg is still weak. My left arm still has no practical use which brings me on to my next point.
    Two years ago I was introduced to Sportability by a disabled friend, things have not been the same since! I was invited to attend a clay shooting event they had organised. Although very sceptical I attended, at least I thought to meet other disabled people, not thinking Iwould be able to shoot. How wrong I was. Even with only the use of one arm I was, with expert tuition able to shoot. The feeling of being able to do something like this opened up my eyes to the vast possibilities available to disabled people.
    Down the line two years and, along with other vastly more disadvantaged people than me, I have participated in canoeing, archery, gliding, scuba diving, quad biking, 4×4 driving, water sking, rifle and pistol shooting to name some of them.
    These to me are still forms of exercise, mental and physical and have vastly contributed to my recovery, and I would recommend that, whatever your disability never say never.
    My clay shooting? I now shoot on a regular basis with able bodied people and have won two third place trophies recently.
    Dont be shy, give it all a try!

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