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Fitness First criticised for failing to provide sign language interpreter


A DEAF man has hit out at Fitness First for refusing to fund a sign language interpreter for personal trainer sessions in "violation" of his rights.

James Clarke, who was born deaf, says he is "hurt" by Fitness First's refusal to pay for a translator so he can properly grapple with the equipment and claims that it violates the spirit of equalities legislation.

However, a spokesman for the corporation's Purley branch insists it is acting within the law because the cost of a translator for a handful of sessions "outweighs the membership fee".

Mr Clarke, of Sanderstead, who shot to local fame for being a Torchbearer in the run-up to London 2012, was refused the interpreter after joining the gym earlier this year.

Communicating via e-mail, he said: "I came to Fitness First and met a staff member about joining the gym membership. We communicated using pen and paper and I eventually paid the full gym membership fee. It included two free sessions with a personal trainer (PT).

"I attended the PT sessions. We communicated using pen and paper and each session lasted 45 minutes, which is the standard.

"But after two sessions, I was not satisfied because I learnt very little because of not being able to communicate properly, so I decided to request an interpreter to start the PT sessions all over again. I also cannot lip-read."

Mr Clarke then quit from the Brighton Road gym two months later after receiving no sessions with an interpreter.

The 35-year-old, who is also visually impaired, then decided to try to join up again to train for a marathon, but only with an agreement an interpreter would be present for his PT sessions .

However, after six months of exchanging e-mails, the gym still refused to supply an interpreter.

Mr Clarke added: "People with disabilities will be treated the same as those without disabilities, only if the disabled people have full support. This is the human right.

"They see my disability as my problem. I felt hurt by their lacklustre attitude and frustrated. I don't understand how they can ignore equality law. My membership money has not been refunded."

After being contacted by the Advertiser, Fitness First pledged to refund Mr Clarke's membership fee, but said it is not required to supply an interpreter.

A spokesman said: "Fitness First has taken a lot of time to look into James's inquiry.

"In keeping with equality code of practice we can provide a service – where the cost is reasonable – to ensure disabled members are not disadvantaged. However, in James's situation, unfortunately the cost of the service in question outweighs the membership fee and so we're unable to provide this additional service."

Fitness First had not revealed the cost of Mr Clarke's membership compared with the cost of an interpreter by the time the Advertiser went to press.

The law says that Mr Clarke's predicament comes down to a battle between two competing sets of rights under statutory guidance issued by the European Commission under the Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice. On the one hand, it requires providers such as Fitness First are required to take 'reasonable steps' to make facilities accessible for disabled people. It requires providers to: "Where a provision, criterion or practice puts disabled members, associates or guests at a substantial disadvantage compared with those who are not disabled, to take reasonable steps to avoid that disadvantage." However, Fitness First claims this is trumped by further guidance issued, which states: "The duty to make reasonable adjustments places service providers under a responsibility to take such steps as it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case, to have to take in order to make adjustments. "What is a reasonable step for a particular service provider to have to take depends on all the circumstances of the case." Under this, the 'financial and other costs of making the adjustment' must be considered when deciding what may be reasonable.

Fitness First criticised for failing to provide sign language interpreter

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