Health Spas and Health Vacations
What is a spa? In the U.S., our mental picture of a spa is a building that houses exercise equipment and pools, such as a Vic Tanny. Very healthy people go to these spas to get healthier. A spa might also be a luxury hotel that offers healthful exercise facilities and activity programs. A tanning salon could also be referred to as a spa, or a beauty salon that offers various glamour treatments could be called a "day spa." Or a spa may simply be another word for a hot tub.
In Germany, however, spas are like small villages. They are made up of hotels, restaurants, churches, and shops. There are clinics and various treatment centers that house swimming pools and specially equipped treatment rooms. Spas have parks, tennis courts, lakes and concert halls. Many physicians and therapists have offices right on the spa grounds. People take part in their own customized holistic wellness programs. They live at the spa for several weeks to rejuvenate and prevent health deterioration. In selected European health spas, there are accessible and barrier-free facilities and programs for people with neuromuscular disabilities. Medical specialists lead these programs with expertise in various rehabilitation areas, including the long-term effects of polio, spinal cord injury, spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
In the U.S., there is a small, self-selected group of fitness-conscious Americans that breaks away to hotel-centered health spas, but most often even these spas are not architecturally or programmatically accessible to people who have a chronic physical disability. Taking a health vacation at a spa is currently out of reach to millions of Americans with disabilities who could benefit from the professional advice, and disability-customized wellness programs that focus on overall health through fun-filled therapeutic activities. But a study-visit, sponsored by the World Institute on Disability, of several health spas in Germany, and a recent National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD)-supported visit to a longstanding American resort-turned-rehabilitation center suggests that the spa model must be possible in the U.S. From Germany to Georgia, a closer look at the European model inspires a new vision for Georgia Warm Springs - a long-lost accessible American health spa.