One in four U.S. adults has a disability, and people with disability are three times more likely to experience secondary health conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. People with disability need access to health and wellness programs, but many of these programs are not inclusive.
This series will move through the five domains covered in the Guidelines, Recommendations, Adaptations, Including Disability (GRAIDs) to provide a comprehensive approach to ensure that your fitness center is accessible and welcoming to all individuals.
Domain: Built environment – structural features built into the facility or landscape.
Examples: ramps, signage, clear paths/sidewalks, curb cuts, hard floor surfaces, park play equipment, lighting, counter heights.
Lack of access in the built environment is a guaranteed dealbreaker for people with disability. To paraphrase the famous movie line from Field of Dreams with our own added element of inclusion, “If you don’t build it accessibly, they can’t come.”
If people with disability can’t get into your facility or access certain areas, they simply won’t come. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was passed over 30 years ago, prohibiting discrimination against people with disability. However, the reality is that access is still not universally guaranteed – fitness centers included. We must all do better to provide inclusive access to health and wellness facilities. The first way we can do that is through the built environment.
The built environment of your fitness center is the first model of inclusion your members will encounter. Built environment includes many things, including the parking lot, the path to the front door, the welcome desk, towel bin, locker rooms, aquatic space, free weight area, aerobics room and everything in between.
If there are no accessible parking spots, curb cuts to the entrance, or an inaccessible front door, access to a fitness center is denied before a person with a disability has a chance to go inside. Once inside the fitness center, other elements of the built environment can determine access. It is important to have a welcome desk at seated height, accessible bathroom stalls and exercise equipment that is accessible or placed at an appropriate distance.
As a fitness center, it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to access your center. Partner with the disability community and continually assess your building to make needed changes.
Universal design, also known as “inclusive design,” is the gold standard for a built environment. Universal design goes beyond the ADA standards and ensures that a building is accessible for everyone, regardless of age, ability or any other demographic.
- Do some research to find out what an accessible fitness center looks like along with the elements of universal design.
- Consider all types of disability.
- Partner with a local disability organization or people with a disability.
- Assess your space using an accessibility checker (see below for options).
- Work with the disability community to make needed changes to your facility.
- Community Health Inclusion Index
- ADA Checklist
- Removing Barriers in Fitness Spaces
- The United States Access Board Guide to Accessible Routes
- ADA Checklist for Exercise Equipment
- ADA Checklist for Swimming Pools
- How to Choose a Fitness Center
- How to Connect and Engage with Disability Advocates and Communities
- Accessibility and Inclusion Toolkit for YMCAs and Fitness Facilities