New Study Finds Low Accessibility of Physical Activity Facilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
The investigators conducted an interesting study in western Oregon that involved the examination of 50 physical activity facilities. Accessibility was evaluated by the percentage compliance of each facility in 10 structural domains: customer service desk; accessibility to and around exercise equipment; drinking fountains; telephones; restrooms/locker rooms; elevators; path of travel; exterior entrances/doors; ramps; and parking. The instrument to measure facility accessibility was developed by Dr. Stephen Figoni and was based on the ADA accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities.
The investigator (Mr. Spaziani) traveled to each facility and made physical measurements in these 10 categories. The results of the study found that the highest rates of compliance were in the domains of exterior entrance/doors (90%) and telephone accessibility (88%). The lowest compliance rates were for accessibility to and around exercise equipment (8%); customer service desk (37%); and restrooms/locker rooms (44%). The investigators concluded that the lack of structural accessibility of the evaluated facilities may impose a significant barrier to participation among people with disabilities.
Given that one of the lowest areas of accessibility was "access to and around exercise equipment," it is difficult to imagine why anyone who uses a wheelchair would want to join a local fitness facility. Why spend money on a health club membership that only allows the person access to a few pieces of exercise equipment while the rest of the members have access to all the equipment? It's commendable that 90% of the facilities now allow a person to get through the front door and use the telephone, thanks to the ADA, but what good is it if you can't make eye contact with the person at the front desk because the desk is at twice the height of your wheelchair.
Let's not forget why people go to fitness facilities in the first place - to use the equipment, participate in a warm water exercise class, and join in a few of the "aerobics" and yoga classes. And heaven knows what the results of a study would look like if other, more qualitative aspects of accessibility were evaluated, such as professional attitudes toward customers with disabilities, knowledge of the person's disability and how to arrange various accommodations to establish a dynamic and challenging exercise program, how to perform transfers onto strength machines and into swimming pools, how to adapt a yoga class, and so on.
It is clear from this recent study that we have a long way to go before we can pat ourselves on the back and say that we accommodate people with disabilities in fitness settings. The many physical, social and attitudinal barriers that people with disabilities are confronted with when trying to use fitness or recreation facilities diminish the pleasure of utilizing these facilities. It's hard enough for many people to even get to the gym, let alone having to deal with the enormous obstacles that they have to confront once they are in the building.
One of NCPAD's secondary projects is to assess physical activity accessibility from various perspectives, including the built environment, programs, equipment, professional behavior, and policies and procedures. In a few months, we will produce a report that discusses a comprehensive assessment tool that a person with a disability or a professional can use to measure the accessibility of fitness and recreation facilities. It will be the first instrument of its kind and will hopefully lead to structural and programmatic changes in the way fitness and recreation facilities operate in the future.