A gym providing signed Auslan classes for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is helping the community stay fit safely, breaking down communication barriers that can be experienced in gyms.
It was while in lockdown that Brisbane woman Belle Kaloshin posed a question to her friends in the deaf and hard of hearing community. She asked them what they thought about the idea of a gym where classes were signed in Auslan.
"I just put up a Facebook post like, 'Would you rather integrate or have your own classes?'" Ms Kaloshin said.
Ms Kaloshin, 25, is not deaf, but her parents and grandparents are.
She said the demand for signed classes designed specifically for people who were deaf and hard of hearing was overwhelming.
That was just three months ago.
Since then, Ms Kaloshin and partner Ryan Kurr have opened the doors to Sign and Us, a functional fitness gym for the deaf and hard of hearing community at Slacks Creek, Logan in Queensland.
Mr Kurr said members found the gym not only provided a physical release, but a mental release as well.
"That immediately says it's more than just weights and bikes," Mr Kurr said.
Gym member Tanya Hallett, who is deaf, was able to attend mainstream gyms only by hiring a personal trainer, but she said going to a signed class was like nothing she had experienced before.
"With Belle communicating and signing it left goose bumps on my arms," Ms Hallett said.
The 43-year-old has always participated in sport and fitness and even played basketball at the Deaflympics.
"It was really great to find a class where there was hard of hearing, there's full deaf, there's Auslan users," she said.
"And when we're finished, we always go and get coffee, or we talk."
Deaf community 'absolutely huge'
The idea for a gym with Auslan classes was planted in Ms Kaloshin mind when her mother wanted to get involved in her passion for CrossFit.
"She was like, 'Hey, I really want to get involved in these classes, but I can't hear the coaches. Do you think, maybe I could come to a class with you, and you could relay the information?'" Ms Kaloshin recalls.
From there, Ms Kaloshin was interpreting for a number of her mother's friends as well.
"It was like a ripple effect," Ms Kaloshin said.
Ms Kaloshin said a lack of awareness did not mean there was a lack of demand.
Deaf Australia chief executive Kyle Miers said clear communication was essential for a person's safety at the gym.
"I know of many stories where deaf people attended [a] gym and ended up injuring themselves, and/or not achieving their goals just simply because they are unable to communicate effectively," he said.
"The [Auslan] gym is an indication of what is possible in other sectors that will increase the participation of deaf people, and not having to rely on communication support such as interpreter and the NDIS."
Ms Kaloshin said for many people who were deaf or hard of hearing, classes at mainstream gyms did not always work.
"With our gym here, we show the form and make sure they're doing it correctly, but at the same time we can still communicate by watching what they're doing and moving through everything with them."
'A place where I can belong'
For 25-year-old gym member Chloe Haywood, who is deaf, trying to keep up in classes held at her regular gym was demotivating.
"I wouldn't be able to hear how things were being explained properly, or how in-depth the movement was and what [muscles] you needed to focus on.
"[Now] it feels like I have a place where I can belong."
Thirty-two-year-old Tamieka Jones is hard of hearing and says the Auslan gym has already made a "massive difference" to her wellbeing.
"I know it's going to improve my fitness," she said.
"A lot of time in the past I've felt that I've gone to the gym, but then I'm behind ... and then I miss half the workout. It can be very frustrating, it can be very overwhelming.
She said it was easy for people to give up and just exercise from home, but it was difficult to stay motivated.
If the pandemic forced the gym to move online, Ms Kaloshin said they were ready for that as well.