Disability Sport Info

Grassroots sport: Accessercise

December 06, 2022 Dr Chris Brown Season 2 Episode 13
Grassroots sport: Accessercise
Disability Sport Info
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Disability Sport Info
Grassroots sport: Accessercise
Dec 06, 2022 Season 2 Episode 13
Dr Chris Brown

In this special episode, I speak to Ali Jawad, a GB Paralympian currently studying a PhD in anti-doping in Paralympic sport, to discuss the Accessercise app he has created. Accessercise is a fitness app specifically designed for people with impairments. 

In the episode, we consider why the app has been created, the features of the app, and consider how the app can support disabled people to be physically active. 

Accessercise is available to download via the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Website link: https://join.accessercise.com/ 
Twitter: @accessercise

This episode was recorded on 11th April 2022.

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this special episode, I speak to Ali Jawad, a GB Paralympian currently studying a PhD in anti-doping in Paralympic sport, to discuss the Accessercise app he has created. Accessercise is a fitness app specifically designed for people with impairments. 

In the episode, we consider why the app has been created, the features of the app, and consider how the app can support disabled people to be physically active. 

Accessercise is available to download via the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Website link: https://join.accessercise.com/ 
Twitter: @accessercise

This episode was recorded on 11th April 2022.

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Transcript of Disability Sport Info episode, ‘Accessercise’




Speaker: CB: Dr Christopher Brown (Presenter – University of Hertfordshire, UK) 

Speaker: AJ: Ali Jawad (Participant – Paralympian and PhD student, UK)



Speaker: CB                        Time: 0:29

Hello, listener. Welcome to the Disability Sport Info Show. Thank you for joining me for another episode. This is a special episode. We'll be exploring the Accessercise app, which is an initiative created by Ali Jawad, the Paralympian Powerlifter, who's also a PhD student looking into anti-doping and cheating in Paralympic sport.

For this episode, we're focusing on the Accessercise app and what it is, why it's been created and how it can help to encourage more exercise and activity for disabled people. I hope you enjoy our conversation. 

So you've created the Accessercise app. First of all, what is it and why have you created this app? What's its purpose? 


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 1:12

So I'll give you some context behind it because I think it's important that we get some context behind it. In the first lockdown, like everyone else, I had more times on my hands. And I was training for a Paralympic Games from my living room. So, yeah, crazy. But I think what I, what I did was I was kind of reflecting on my career. At the time thinking like, you know, did I do enough? Did I reach my potential? Have I achieved everything that I wanted to? Just stuff like that, but a reflective period for me. It's weird, but I think everyone was reflecting, I think at that time. 

But the one thing that when I look back, it wasn't about the medals or what I did, it was actually why I never questioned why I was the only disabled person in a gym? At that time, I never questioned it. I never asked that question. And when I look back, I was like, why did I never ask somebody why? Is it because I was just more adaptable because I wanted to get to the Paralympic Games and I just got on with it? Or were there barriers there that I just didn't, I just didn't understand. And has that really changed in the last 17 years since, since then? Does more disabled people going to gyms and actually regularly going, and then the answer was, I don't think so. So I thought, well, why is that the case? So I went online and I thought, well, there must be a fitness app that caters for disabled people, or people with impairments, because the fitness app industry is huge. It is massive. I think there's over 70,000 health and fitness apps on the market. I was like, there's bound to be one. So I did my research one morning and I couldn't find one. Now I thought, this is shocking. Am I not looking in the right places or does it not exist? So as a disabled person, I started writing things down in terms of if there was a fitness app, what would it look like? And then within the hour I was like, oh, okay. I think I've got a fitness app here. 

So I thought, yeah, but don't be stupid. Like you've got no business or tech experience like rip it up and throw it in bin, like that's just another project when you retire or something. But then I was like, you know what, like it needs to happen. And why should I let somebody else do it? I think I can do it like I'm a disabled person, you know? Like I've got the experience. Why not? So I called my friend and now my co-founder to tell me off to see whether or not it's crazy or whether or not I'm on to something. And he was like, oh my God, let's do it.

The idea to launch it took us about a year, and last year we launched it. So Accessercise is, well, I guess it's the world's first complete fitness app, especially designed for people with disabilities and impairments.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 4:01

So you did that all whilst training for the Paralympics via your living room?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 4:05 

And studying the PhD at the same time.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 4:07

Oh yeah. Sorry, I forgot about your PhD, the whole reason we're talking! Yeah. Okay. Yeah, you obviously like having lots of things to do at the same time, but yeah. Okay. Excellent. 

You've created this really, well, world leading app, so if someone logged onto it, what do they see? What do they find in this app?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 4:26

Yeah, so we try to, kind of cater with three different features in the app. So, feature one is the exercise library. This is an impairment specific exercise video library where the user gets a catalogue of video exercises performed by somebody of their impairment. Right, so if you're a double amputee, all the videos, the demonstrator is a double amputee too.

Now, we don't give out any training programmes at all because I'm not an expert on every impairment. However, the user is an expert on their impairment. So with the video exercises, users can create their own training programmes. Right. So they give them, you empower them, you educate them, but they also take responsibility of their journeys, which I think is really important. And not relying on able bodied people to teach them what to do. 

The second feature is the social hub, where users get to share their workouts with their friends, and, you know, the friends can like, comment and motivate them. So I think a sense of community is really important. 

And the last one, and this is where my academic, science evidence-based hat comes on. I thought, well, how can I change the fitness industry itself? Like how can I, how can we drive to better policy changes down the line? So the explore section allows users to rate the accessibility of gyms and sporting facilities in their areas, which means that it's a two-way feedback. It allows users to know what facilities are, quote unquote, you know, accessible for them or the most accessible for them. But two, it allows us to know what gyms and sporting facilities are lacking, which means that actually, when it comes to analysing our fitness industry in the UK, we go actually, we've actually got actual data from actual users to drive our thinking. I think that's really important. 

So they're the three main features. Obviously, we've got other features, but they're the three where we think will make a huge difference to the app.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 6:36

Okay. Yeah, really interesting. 

And in terms of the last point, so about the accessibility and users being able to rate it, are you working with gyms to try and promote the app so that they open themselves up to being critiqued? Or are you hoping that the users themselves do that and you kind of then go to the gyms and say, look, this is what the feedback we're getting? 


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 6:55

Yeah, so that's a good question. So at the moment, because we're so new, we're relying on users. However, in the future we're absolutely gonna work with gyms to make sure that if they do have a non, you know, favourable rating, we help them make sure that they increase their rating. Remember the ratings in the app, they're not driven by me or my team. They're driven by the user.

So it's not, it's not us criticising them, it's the user themselves. And I felt that was really important. And in the app, if a facility gets more than four stars, they automatically get our logo on it. It's like a verify, it's like a verified thing unofficially. And I thought that was a good thing to do. So you separate the accessible gyms and the non-accessible gyms on the map.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 7:42

Yeah. Then you hope that some gyms who haven't got the logo strive to do it, especially if it's a local competitor, et cetera. Okay, cool. 

You probably know this already because you're a very smart man and you've done your research in this area. English Federation of Disability Sport, which is now Activity Alliance. They had something called the Inclusive Fitness Initiative. Which may not be as detailed as what you've created, but they also had the kind of mark of quality in trying to say that these are the gyms, which are inclusive. Why has that not translated to meaningful change then? 



Speaker: AJ                         Time: 8:15

You want my honest opinion? 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 8:16

I would love your honest opinion, yeah.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 8:18

Let's just say, organisations that preach about participation. I'm not gonna say who because I think we know who they are. That are government funded. That are government funded. They love consultation. They love data in terms of the statistics behind a certain problem and they commit to funding projects to say they've done something to address it without actually addressing the problem. So these organisations have the resources to do this app. Like this app should have been created years ago with the resources that some government agencies have. They've got the money to do it. They've got the know-how. They can do it. You know, for me to kind of do this myself just shows you that nobody actually wants meaningful change. It's all about ticking loads of boxes. So that's the problem. You've got organisations that have loads of money behind them talking about, you know, consultations, you know, and you know, producing data that actually don't correspond to any change at all.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 9:32

Yeah, so it's a tick-box culture. 

And I think also you probably, again, know more than me about this, but these are organisations that are run by non-disabled people primarily. So, yes, they may want to change it, but they don't have the lived experience. They don't necessarily have that. 


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 9:50

Yeah. But I think that's an excuse because I keep saying to a lot of people, how many disabled people do you know are employed in senior positions in any organisations?  


Speaker: CB                        Time: 10:00

Well, hardly any. Presumably.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 10:02



Speaker: CB                        Time: 10:04

Well, yeah, exactly. Probably because well, there's a lack of fairness or awareness of the opportunities that exist.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 10:12

It's because organisations think to tick a box on their accessibility and inclusion space. As an organisation they think employing disabled people, a disabled person in a low-skilled job is enough because we have to be appreciative that we've even got a job. That has to change.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 10:32

That patronising attitude that we talked about earlier.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 10:34

Massively. So I think we're getting to a point where we need to allow the disabled community to demonstrate their ability rather than giving them low-level jobs as a tick-box exercise, a lot of organisations that work with disabled people, you're right, they're all able-bodied. What do they know? Absolutely nothing. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 10:54

Yeah. And if you are able-bodied, it's also about, you know, giving the platform to individuals who have that experience and have the knowledge, and actually be humble enough to say, I dunno all the answers, I don't have all the experience or knowledge someone else might do.

It's interesting you're talking about that because, yeah, it's dreadful that in 2022, it's only now, like last year, you know, that we've had an app like this.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 11:19

And done by somebody with no tech or business experience! Some random dude!


Speaker: CB                        Time: 11:24

Well, you're not quite some random dude, Ali, you're a very successful elite athlete.

But yeah, your point remains, you know, it's taken an individual with the drive and determination and passion to try and actually get this across the line, to get it across the line, but obviously if you had all the resources and infrastructure that some other organisations have, you'd be able to implement this even greater.


 Speaker: AJ                        Time: 11:44

There's global companies out there that could do this. They could have done it years ago. So for me it's a travesty that has taken, you know, one or two people to have an idea, thought about during lockdown, to actually do it. Like we haven't got the resources like anybody else.

So we've had to think outside the box. But I think the way we've done it has actually been a benefit to us because I am disabled. I've got the experience as a disabled person. So having that knowhow has actually probably been better for the app rather than an organisation doing it instead.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 12:20

Yeah. And what you said earlier kind of struck me when you talked about the consultation exercises that some organisations go through.

When I was doing my PhD, I had to do a freedom of information request to get information about Sport England funding for disability amongst national governing bodies. Because they said £91.5 million or whatever's gone to national governing bodies. Okay, where is it then? Where's it gone?

And yeah, it took a bit of time. And then some of the funding was basically for having the conversation. For basically trying to upskill organisations saying, let's work towards having the opportunity to be able to do it. And it wasn't actually funding for a project really. It was just about let's try and upskill you guys.

Yeah, it's crazy. 


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 13:02

No, I think it's important you upskill your staff. Absolutely.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 13:05

That shouldn’t be the end result for funding from Sport England.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 13:08

That should not be the end result that should be a part of the process.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 13:12

Yeah. And often some of the accusations from other participants was that essentially some organisations go for the easy wins in terms of the impairment categories. You know, like try and have these big mass sessions where you get maybe intellectual impairment groups so you can just say, look how what we're doing, rather than actually again, trying to make meaningful change.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 13:29

Yeah. Because the app is still in its early days, we are gonna try and cater for about 126 disabilities and impairments in the app, eventually.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 13:37

Really? I was gonna ask you. How have you made it accessible across the multiple impairments? So 126. That's a lot. How have you managed to kind of get all the exercise videos, experience, and information? That must have been a big piece of work.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 13:50

Yeah. Our biggest challenge is content, right?

So think about it. Every impairment has its own content, and that content has to start from novice all the way up to experienced. So the intensity of the exercise obviously then varies as well. So you are catering, not only are you catering for every impairment, but you're also catering for the level of that user and their journeys.

So you have to have enough, like the content will be vast per impairment eventually. So we focused on physical impairment for now. And then we're gonna branch out to more impairments down the line. So eventually we're gonna have chronic illnesses. We're gonna have, you know, things that are invisible illnesses as well.

The dream is to make it the most accessible fitness app there has ever been. That is the goal. I know it's a huge goal. I know it's crazy because it's still early days and you know, my team's only three people. But the dream is to get to that sort of level because, as an elite athlete, I've always said that like the dream is to always get to an Olympic and Paralympic games. That's what it is as an athlete and for me, I need to transfer that into, you know, business, and go, actually, what is the dream? What is the pinnacle? And the pinnacle is you make it as accessible as physically possible.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 14:56

Yeah. It's just frustrating you haven't had the resources or someone with huge amounts of resources, haven't been able to kind of add to this. You should go on Dragons Den next season!


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 15:03

No, they take too much equity.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 15:05

Yeah. That's the problem. You'll value your business at a million and say I only want five to seven per cent to give away! 


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 15:11

Yeah, exactly. They probably want 50%. But if Steven Bartlett is listening, I'll have a conversation with him. Because I think he can do good things for us


Speaker: CB                        Time: 15:19

If only I knew Steven Bartlett, but you never know. He might be one of our listeners, who knows.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 15:24

Or Peter Jones. Because he's techy. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 15:26

Yeah. Yeah. Or any of the Dragons, if you've got expertise and you're listening, feel free to get in touch. But yeah, no. Okay. 

So there's obviously the challenges are in terms of time, resources, being able to get it as accessible as possible.

So for now you're working with users and you're hoping the users generate the content and then you can feed that back. How do you envisage working with organisations if possible? We've talked about how in the future you can maybe go to gyms, et cetera. How are you gonna get this message about this app out there?

What's your kind of main way of doing that?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 15:55

Yeah, so I'm gonna correct you there for a minute. So it's not users creating content for us at all.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 16:00

Sorry, I mean, in terms of the rating.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 16:02

Oh, you mean the explore section? Okay. 

So our plan is to basically partner with every single charity that represents these impairments. And become their, like, official fitness app partner to make sure that we work with them to make sure the exercises in the app are safe, are accessible, and they're doing the job that we think they should be doing for their communities. So we are asking charities that represent these impairments to contact me so we can work together.

And, because like from the start the exercises in the app I knew that obviously being an elite athlete, my knowledge is vast but at the top level. I needed some grounding what was going on on the ground. So what I did was from the very, very start of the process, I employed a disability focus group with varying impairments to go through the process with me at every stage to make sure that the app is functioning, the flow of the app is accessible enough, the videos are clear, they're concise and all the features were doing what they're supposed to. So that knowledge that I had from the focus group was very valuable for us. And I'm adding to that focus group every single time we're getting a new impairment in to make sure that we've got fresh ideas, fresh perspectives. So yeah, we've got a big focus group that's helping me do it, but I know that we can do way more. So I'm hoping that charities and organisations come forward.

And we're hoping that universities as well come forward to make sure that they do research on the app, make sure that, you know, from an evidence point of view it's doing what it's supposed to do. And actually we're open to any sort of improvements as well. So we want the app to be as evidence-based as possible.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 17:53

So, yeah, lots of work ahead. What would be kind of the main piece of work now for the next six months or so? Is it just getting the content for the videos and then refreshing the focus groups? Is that what you are envisaging?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 18:08

Yeah. The biggest thing for us is content, right? The app doesn't exist without video content. It's just how it is. Unfortunately, that video content, as you can imagine, is stupidly expensive. You've got the cost of the facility, you've got the cost of, even though, however, we managed to get, you know, Stoke Mandeville have been incredible for us. They've allowed us to film for free there in the beginning, which was great.

But you've got the, you know, camera operator, you've got the editing, you've got the voiceovers in the videos. It is a very expensive process for us. And I guess with any tech company it's gonna burn a lot of money. You know, we're not gonna be different. So yeah, for us it's all about get as much content as possible and growing the impairment groups because it's only gonna work if you cater for the majority of the community.

Yeah. So for us, we've got a long way to go still.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 19:00

And in terms of platforms, it's available on. Is it on Android, iOS, all those kind of platforms?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 19:06

Yeah, it's available on both. And you can find us on all our social media platforms too.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 19:12

For those who aren't technologically savvy, how can they still be exercising and be keeping themselves fit if they're not able to kind of, if they don't have a phone that is able to download this app, how are you going to try and help those individuals?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 19:25

Yes, I think down the line we're gonna try revamp our website where it becomes the app. So you can download stuff offline and access it later on demand, obviously, like that's the dream down the line. And it's also very important we do that cause we know that not everyone's got a phone especially if want to branch out to other nations.

So it's important that people can download it without using their phones. They can use it through a screen. And we're gonna try and make it as accessible as possible, eventually. But yeah, please be patient with us. It's been a very long process already.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 19:59

Yeah, I think listeners will be very patient based on all the work that you're currently doing.

So yeah, no, well that's really been very interesting to learn about this app. Accessercise app available via Google Play and also via iOS on Apple. So please download it. There's also the website. Would you like to say the website address?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 20:18

It's just accessercise.com.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 20:20

Cool. And to confirm, Accessercise is spelt A-C-C-E-S-S-E-R-C-I-S-E?


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 20:26



Speaker: CB                        Time: 20:27

Okay, Ali, it's been great chatting to you. Lots of content. Very interesting. You're a very busy man, so I really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Yeah, thank you ever so much.


Speaker: AJ                         Time: 20:37

My pleasure. Thank you.


*** Discussion ends ***


Speaker: CB                        Time: 20:38

That’s it. That’s all we have time for. Thanks for listening to another episode of the Disability Sport Info show. Stay tuned for another episode. Until then. Goodbye. 



What is Accessercise and why has it been created?
Features of the Accessercise app
Developing the Accessercise app
Why has something like the Accessercise app not been developed before?
Accessibility of the Accessercise app
Promoting the Accessercise app
Future development
How to access the Accessercise app
End of discussion