The Next Frontier of the ADA: Fitness Facilities
|Karin Korb leads a group of exercisers on the Krankcycle at the Club Industry Expo|
Although there are no data on the usage of fitness facilities by people with disabilities, the typical response by many owners/managers is that people with disabilities (e.g., wheelchair users, adults/youth with intellectual disabilities, people with autism, etc.) rarely, if ever, want to join their facilities. They're not sure why, but one of the more common expressions is,'They go to rehab or 'special rec' programs where their needs can be better met.' On the flip side, many people with disabilities have told me that they don't go to fitness centers because their perception, which is true in many cases, is that they aren't very friendly places for someone who has a disability.
I've been saying for a long time that there needs to be a better connection between what the disability community needs from a fitness manager or professional and what the facility can and should offer people with disabilities. If the attitude among people with disabilities is that fitness facilities are not disability-friendly environments and have nothing to offer them, the fitness industry should take responsibility for perpetuating this image and figure out a way to change it. All that may be missing is some good advertising showing features of a facility that are accessible and a better balance of photos that represent people with and without disabilities.
We're beginning a new decade, and fitness managers need a new business model for reaching into the disability community. It's time for the industry to step up and begin to advertise its accessible products and facilities to people with disabilities.
One important step is for more fitness professionals to begin making presentations to local independent living centers, assisted living facilities, senior centers, agencies that provide housing to people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, hospitals discharging patients with newly acquired or diagnosed disabilities, support groups, schools working on transition plans for preparing adolescents in special education for future employment, mental health clinics, and home health agencies providing support services to people with disabilities. Even making 'health' phone calls to identify family members caring for someone with a disability who are in need of some support -- either by phone or in person -- could make a huge difference in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
During low-volume times when members are at work or school, fitness professionals should speak to local organizations about what their facility has to offer. They could start by highlighting certain features that are accessible or by stating that someone in their facility will work towards greater accessibility for anyone who joins their facility. A free one-month membership is not a bad idea and will give the potential member an opportunity to try out certain features of the facility. Also, helping the person find transportation through other members who live nearby could be a great way to remove one of the most difficult barriers to using a facility.
The fitness industry has had many good years exporting its services to the affluent, well-established members of the community. Where it has failed is in making inroads into new members with disabilities who have been left out for various reasons. Getting people with disabilities to become members of fitness facilities requires unwavering commitment to removing three primary barriers: attitude, perception, and knowledge. Each of these barriers can be effectively removed with a long-range strategic plan that establishes a fitness coalition consisting of fitness service providers, disability and health organizations, leadership from the school district, and local government agencies, working together to make a more inclusive community (see http://www.incfit.org for more information on the Inclusive Fitness Coalition).
Let's make 2010 our own ADA by working together to build healthier communities for people with disabilities.
Please send any questions or comments to Jim Rimmer, NCHPAD Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.