Few Gyms Comply With ADA Requirements

Working Out May Be Even Tougher for Disabled Persons

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 10, 2003 -- If you have a hard time maneuvering between the barbells and exercise machines at your local gym, imagine how hard it might be if you had a disability. A new study suggests that most gyms aren't fully accessible to people with disabilities, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Researchers evaluated 50 commercial, private, corporate, and hospital exercise facilities in western Oregon and found that none was 100% compliant with the ADA. They say the findings are particularly troublesome because a lack of access may make it harder for many disabled individuals to get the regular physical activity that's recommended for them.

With the consent of the gyms' owners, the study authors visited each facility and took measurements of 10 different structural areas and compared them to the public access regulations required by Title III of the ADA.

They found exterior doors (90%) and telephones (88%) inside the facilities were most likely to be in compliance with ADA regulations. But only 8% of the pathways to and around exercise equipment and 37% of customer service desks fulfilled ADA requirements.

The study appears in the January/February issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. Other areas covered by the ADA and examined in the study included drinking fountains, restrooms and locker rooms, ramps, elevators, and parking areas.

Study author Bradley J. Cardinal, PhD, of the department of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University, and colleagues say in many cases, a few minor adjustments could greatly improve the level of accessibility -- without requiring major remodeling or expense.

For example, the ADA requires a clear path of travel of at least 38 inches in width to the customer service desks and at least 36 inches to, between, and around exercise equipment. By simply rearranging some of these areas, many facilities may be able to increase their compliance.

But the authors also say the situation at health clubs may be even worse than suggested by this study because about 20% of the owners contacted for the study refused to let the researches evaluate their facilities.

SOURCE: American Journal of Health Promotion, January/February 2003.