Lack of Programs Available Drives COTA to Start Business
Tara Simmons, a COTA from Pennsylvania, saw a lack of programs available for the special-needs population she worked with in an outpatient OT setting. She decided to start her own business by creating a safe space for people of all ages, fitness levels, and abilities. All Abilities Fitness Center opened in 2018, the first and only adapted gym in Berks County, PA, with a mission “to provide a safe and inclusive environment for those with any disability to feel comfortable and empowered to improve physical fitness, social bonds, and fulfill sensory needs in a non-judgmental secure setting.”
Programs at the center increase the quality of life for individuals across all ages and abilities. For example, a 62-year-old man who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and resides in a group home regularly enjoys exercising and engaging with staff and other students at this fitness center. His personal staff have reported an overall increase in his social interactions since starting the program. Another example is a child with cru du chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, who began attending All Abilities at age. Three years later, she has transitioned from crawling to walking with a walker. Her uncle, who shares the same diagnosis, also participates in programs at the center and has shown improvement with social interactions and an increase in overall mood levels.
All Abilities also provides services in the school setting. Teachers and administrators state that their students look forward to classes with All Abilities every week. In one day, the center can work with students from several classrooms, each with their own specific needs. Activities are adapted based on those needs. For example, students from an autistic support classroom engage in sensory integration activities and practice following directions, while students from a multiple disabilities support classroom participate in active range of motion and strength training activities. The center also works with students who live in low-income areas, delivering after-school programs and encouraging a movement-filled lifestyle for kids 18 and under.