- Laura Minutello
Fleming Harnesses Personal Experience to Promote Health in Disability Community
"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida. This edition is particularly meaningful during Disability Employment Awareness Month as we spotlight a business owner.
Mark Fleming is a personal trainer, business owner, and self-advocate within the autism community.
He holds multiple degrees and certifications: a bachelor’s in exercise science and master’s in human performance, both from the University of Alabama; a personal training certification through the American Council on Exercise; and several specialty fitness certifications.
As owner of Equally Fit, a Tampa-based personal training studio, Mark combines his personal experience of disability and knowledge of exercise to customize programs that keep those of all ages and abilities moving toward greater levels of health. Currently, Mark is offering both in-person and virtual sessions. Those who may be interested can learn more at equallyfit.com.
Mark’s passion for his work is contagious and FSA Central appreciates his time.
Question: How important is being a person
with a disability to your identity?
Mark: I would say it is pretty important. It explains my challenges and strengths. It does not define who I am completely. Like all individuals with disabilities I have defied some very big odds to be where I am today. I think its important to become comfortable with identifying with your disability so that you can fully accept who you are, but realize that its just a starting point and does not mean you can’t do everything you want to do in your life.
Question: When did you begin to identify as a self-advocate?
Mark: I think four years ago when I really started to branch out into the autistic community. However, I have been advocating for myself my whole life and believe all individuals with disabilities are self-advocates whether they do it at home or in Congress.
Question: What is a memorable experience you’ve had recently?
Mark: I was recently appointed to the Autism Friendly Tampa Advisory Board by the mayor of Tampa. To my knowledge, this board is the only one of its kind in the country. That’s a huge honor to be deemed a leader in the autism community in my home city.
Question: What disability-related issue is most significant to you?
Mark: Physical health and exercise. Disability does not mean that you should just sit and not even try to be physically active. Being inactive has shown many downsides to health and can impact quality and quantity of life. People with disabilities deserve to live healthy, happy, and long lives too.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior, comment, or reaction, that you found particularly obnoxious?
Mark: My first time telling a boss about my disability. This person immediately asked me if I could perform the job. This was after two months working there with no issues.
Question: What about a positive experience?
Mark: When I first opened my gym--there were tons of people who told me how what I was doing gave them hope for their children. Very heartwarming.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Why?
Mark: Temple Grandin. She is considered a pioneer in the autism community and to have a conversation with her would probably be enlightening.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to be different in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Mark: Marriage equality. It’s crazy that people with disabilities are often forced to choose between love and keeping their health benefits. No one should have to make that choice.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Mark: This may be cliché, but I’m going to go with “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Numerous times in my life, I have been told certain things that I couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do, yet with hard work and determination, I have overcome it all.
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Mark for taking the time to participate in the interview. Let us know what you think about "About Us" on Facebook! If you know an accomplished self-advocate in Florida you think we should showcase in "About Us," contact us here or via Facebook.