Juliet England: How easy are exercise classes for deaf people? Here’s my experience

Posted on February 19, 2017



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Last spring, when I joined my new gym, I knew that group exercise classes – ‘spin’ biking sessions (‘spin cycle’ as I fondly call it), box fit and the like – were what I wanted rather than boring old machines.

Having a hearing loss is, of course, no reason for skiving getting fit. But it has thrown up some challenges, even if, broadly speaking, things have gone pretty well.

Spin classes aren’t the easiest of gigs for us deafies to follow, what with the darkened studio and loud music and all.

Most teachers have at least attempted to understand, and tried to accommodate my needs. One brilliant woman wrote the sequences down for me, which helped immeasurably.

Another devised a complicated system of hand signals telling me when to pedal harder, slow down, increase the gears and so on.

One instructor adopted a flash card arrangement, but that didn’t really work since he had to take his hands off his own bike to hold up the cards.

Yet another teacher began throwing questions into the class, no doubt aiming to make things more interactive. I explained I couldn’t hear her and she just moved on to the next person, not repeating for me, not responding at all.

Another evening, I rocked up, admittedly rather later than would be consistent with infallible organisation, to find my favourite spot in the front row taken. I asked the woman on ‘my’ bike if she would mind moving so I could hear the teacher.

OK, OK, of course there’s no ‘my’ bike, but the lights were still on and the music low – people were just starting to pedal gently and even the official warm-up hadn’t yet begun.

I get that she had already set up the bike as she wanted it and had probably already started to count calories and so on.

It’s also true that I go a bit off-piste at the best of times, and it’s hard for me to follow every instruction to the letter anyway. But without a place on that all-important front row, I am completely done for.

Whatever, this woman made it clear she wasn’t budging. In the end, a kindly chap who also had a front row bike hopped off and let me jump on.

It threw up an interesting question – who was in the right? Should she have moved or was she entitled to stay pedalling? Was I wrong for even asking her to shift?

Anyway, I muddle along despite the imperfections and the odd patronising comment. ‘This is Juliet. She can’t hear,’ was the charming introduction from one gym ‘friend’ to a new instructor when I tried out an Insanity class – the clue’s in the name. And, ultimately, I love my spinning and my box fit.

But, instructors, please note. In the cases of going faster or uphill, my understanding of the command is no guarantee of compliance. Being deaf should come with some advantages…

Juliet England does freelance social media and PR work for cseeker.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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