Our question comes from Olga in San Francisco, California:
Are gyms allowed to charge personal care attendants membership fees when they are only there to assist someone with a disability?
This is a great question and one that gyms or individuals alike might not know the answer to. Hopefully this will shed some light on the issue. Unfortunately the law is not crystal clear on this point. Title III of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) states that fitness centers are required to modify policies, practices and procedures to ensure people with disabilities can participate. While the law is not explicit about charging a fee to the personal care attendant (PCA) it is clear that they have to allow them access. However, it is considered best practice to allow the PCA’s admittance without a fee. This best practice policy is followed in gyms across the United States from small local gyms to large chains. It is important to note in this best practice scenario that the PCA is not using the fitness center personally but is merely providing assistance to the individual with a disability. In some aspects this role could be considered similar to a service animal. The animal is required by law to be granted access though obviously not charged a facility fee because the facility is not benefiting the service animal in any way.
As a fitness center or gym manager there may be many instances where they would consider this best practice service to their advantage. For example, an individual who was deaf could bring their own PCA with them to the gym to provide sign language interpretation instead of the gym having to provide an interpreter, which they would have to do by law otherwise. Another example is if the member with a disability has specific needs and they don’t allow the PCA to attend with them, it may require the fitness center to hire more staff. So a gym that charges PCAs may want to reconsider when they look at all the potentially cost saving ways it could benefit them. Not that we want to advocate for companies trying to skirt the law, but it does seem like it may be financially in their best interest in the long run to allow the PCA free access.
For the gym or fitness center’s liability purposes the PCA may be required to sign a waiver. They may also be informed and required to sign a release that states they will not use the fitness center for their own personal use. A quick Google search would provide gyms with multiple examples of such paperwork.
The ADA law is intended to give equality. In this case the fitness center needs to contemplate the following, “Can this individual use our facility equally to that of every other patron without the help of their PCA?” If the answer is no, then the fitness center needs to allow access free of charge.
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