One of the members of my health club is blind, and he comes into the club regularly with his wife. She leads him to an elliptical or a bike, helps him on and sets his cane to the side. Off he goes, exercising as any sighted person does, until his wife comes back to get him.
More than 51 million Americans have some form of disability, and 36 million of those have a severe disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some of them are temporarily disabled due to issues such as back surgery, cancer treatments, a heart attack or a broken foot. However, some of these people are permanently disabled— blind, deaf or paralyzed, for example. With the war in Afghanistan and the recently ended conflict in Iraq, many of our military service members have returned from deployments with disabilities that include amputations and paralysis.
New requirements in the 2010 update to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) go into effect this month to assist this population. Many of the requirements of the revisions do not affect existing fitness facilities until those facilities undergo renovations. However, the 1990 ADA did not include equipment requirements like the 2010 revision does, which means that clubs must adhere to these requirements starting March 15—as long as the requirements are “readily achievable.”
The requirements include making routes to exercise equipment accessible to disabled people and ensuring that at least one of each type of equipment has clear floor space (an area no less than 30 inches by 48 inches) around it for wheelchairs, canes, walkers or other equipment that a user may rely upon in order to get to the equipment and transfer onto it.
It seems to me that repositioning some equipment to allow for this space is “readily achievable” for most club operators. So if you do not adhere to the requirement, aren’t you really saying that this group of people is not worth wooing into your club?
Now is the time to think about what you are doing to reach out to this population. Adhering to these requirements will make your facility more welcoming of people who are disabled, but why not go even further by giving your personal trainers additional education and training so they can capably work with certain disabilities? Then, market these skilled trainers and your updated facility to people with disabilities. Perhaps you can start by developing a relationship with the doctors at your local Veterans Administration Hospital.
The thought of attracting members who are “different” from the able-bodied member you are used to seeing in your club may lead you to worry about additional liabilities or additional time required of your staff to work with disabled members. However, it is time to move past that and see the opportunity that this group of underserved people present for your business—and the opportunity for better health that your business presents to this population.
Besides, seeing a blind man make the effort to come to the gym each day despite the barriers he faces and the excuses he could use to stay home has been inspiring to me as a member. It makes my excuses for not getting to the gym in the morning seem rather silly.