Health club owners often cite the expense involved as the reason why they do not make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Certainly, modifications to an older, existing structure and to new equipment, not to mention the wages needed to attract more knowledgeable staff, involve additional funds and may not be possible in some situations. However, as the fitness industry expands and more new clubs are built, the competition is increasing. The fitness industry has traditionally focused on the population of young, relatively healthy individuals with some disposable income. This population is glamorized in glossy ads and TV commercials with attractive, thin, fit individuals bouncing through an aerobics class, or sweating it out in the weight room. In order to stay in business, some clubs will have to change their image in order to attract a broader clientele.
About 20% of the U.S. population - more than 54 million people- has at least one physical or mental disability. This does not include a large part of the population who are perhaps not commonly associated with having a disability, but for whom traditional exercise is uncomfortable and therefore unlikely. This population is also growing. In addition, much attention has been given to the aging baby boomers. By 2010, 55- to 75-year-olds will outnumber 25- to 35-year-olds by 18 million. The risk of disability and chronic disease increases with age. To limit membership to the population seen in the ads may put a facility out of business.
It is possible for accessibility to be a "money-making" venture. Funding is available for small startup programs through some park districts and community facilities. Universities active in research in this field are another possible funding source. Private donations or commercial backing from a larger corporation have provided funding for some facilities. Partnership with a rehabilitation hospital may be another possibility. Even if the money must be generated from within, the health club can still end up with a profit. As managed health care continues to evolve, the idea of physical activity as "medicine" is gaining ground. If a health club can boast full accessibility and a well-trained staff, it may well receive referrals from neighboring hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.