RSF Debuts New Machine Designed for Disabled Students

Photo: UC Berkeley senior Alex Ghenis works out on the RSF's new Uppertone system, a machine that enables individuals in wheelchairs to perform 16 different exercises without assistance.
Kevin Hahn/Photo
UC Berkeley senior Alex Ghenis works out on the RSF's new Uppertone system, a machine that enables individuals in wheelchairs to perform 16 different exercises without assistance.

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UC Berkeley senior Alex Ghenis is quadriplegic - he has limited use of his muscles and no finger function. But thanks to a newly installed piece of gym equipment, Ghenis can show off his bench press without assistance at the campus Recreational Sports Facility.

The Uppertone system, introduced to the RSF Tuesday, is specifically designed for individuals in wheelchairs to use by themselves. Ghenis - who served as the president of the Disabled Students' Union for three years - said before the system, he would have to call on volunteers for assistance to work out and coordinate a time to meet.

Now, he said, he has the freedom to come as he pleases.

"Yesterday, I had a half hour of free time and realized 'I can go work out.' If this equipment wasn't there, I would not have had that option," he said. "Having a disability is a balance between doing as much for yourself as possible and being comfortable with asking for help when you need it ... I can really use the machine on my own, and it feels like I'm less dependent on someone else - emotionally and psychologically, it feels so much better."

The Uppertone allows its users, both disabled and able-bodied, to perform 16 different exercises. Ghenis said he has been pushing the RSF for the equipment since last year.

However, because the machine is currently set in front of a wall, users cannot perform all 16 of the exercises. Alva Gardner, the current president of the Disabled Students' Union, said she could hardly use the machine because of its position in the weight room.

But RSF staff will be moving the machine to a more open area within the next week, according to Membership Services Supervisor and Cal STAR program supervisor Danyel Morales.

Morales said she hopes more disabled students will begin working out at the RSF once they hear about the new equipment. Of about 70 members in the RSF's Cal STAR program - a sports training and recreation program for people living with disabilities - only 10 are students, she added.

Matt Grigorieff, a UC Berkeley senior who has spent years working to improve accessibility for disabled students, said he wants to see more than just new exercise equipment brought to campus. Change and opportunities, Grigorieff said, must come through the physical education department at UC Berkeley, not the RSF, which he said is "the reflection of the evolution of privatizing P.E." because it operates like a "24-hour gym." He said more funding should be put into the physical education program to develop more options for disabled students.

"It was like a miracle that (Uppertone) happened at all," he said. "Really, with the budget crunch, I was surprised."

Ghenis said he plans to work out three days a week, though he is already sore from his Wednesday workout.

"It's funny, it's not just some random gym equipment," he said. "It actually makes a huge difference for a lot of people."


Contact Sarah Mohamed at [email protected]

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