Strong Headwind on the Road to Accessible Fitness and Recreation
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
This is why owners and managers of fitness facilities, gyms, and parks need to pay more attention to the needs of ALL their citizens, including people with disabilities. It's not as easy for people with disabilities to achieve a regular workout, and therefore communities must be more creative when it comes to designing parks and recreation facilities.
What is so troubling for those of us on a mission to achieve equal access for people with disabilities is the lack of response from the fitness community. Either the facility owners/managers don't have much knowledge on how to promote access to people with disabilities, or they don't feel it's necessary. Here are some of the comments I have heard over the last few years:
- Why do I have to make my facility accessible? Aren't there places for people with disabilities to exercise with special equipment?
- I never see anyone in my gym with a disability, so why do I need to make it accessible?
- Can't we just give them [I hate words like 'they' or 'them' when used in the context of separation] elastic bands to exercise rather than making all our strength equipment accessible?
- I am very concerned about their safety.
It's no wonder why so many people with disabilities, and many seniors, continue to shun fitness facilities. Why would anyone want to go to a place where they don't feel wanted? It's a shame that attitudes among facility owners are still 'pre-ADA.'
It wasn't very long ago that school administrators could prevent children with disabilities from enrolling in their school system. Could you imagine what it must have been like before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act passed in 1975? I'm sorry. Your child cannot attend this school because he wouldn't fit in with the other children. Remember the scene from Forrest Gump when Sally Field had to coerce the principal with a sexual favor to get her son admitted to the only school within 100 miles of home? Yes, "we've come a long way, baby," but we still have a long way to go.
Owners and managers of fitness and recreation facilities must do more to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. If that means removing a few steps, installing a ramp, purchasing a few extra pieces of accessible equipment, or sending staff to a training seminar to learn more about disability and secondary conditions, so be it. It's about time the industry wake up to the fact that a vast number of people with disabilities shun these facilities because they feel uncomfortable and unwanted.