Health clubs that do not comply with accessibility requirements not only shut out potential members, but they also risk being hit with a civil rights lawsuit. Case in point: two women who must use wheelchairs are suing Urban Active, Lexington, KY, because they claim staff misled them when they told them that the two-story club in Columbus, OH, would be ADA compliant once construction was complete. Instead, the finished club does not have an elevator, the pool is too shallow for people in wheelchairs, no clear path exists between equipment, and the countertops and sinks are too high to be reached by a person in a wheelchair, the suit claims.

For many years, new and redesigned fitness facilities have been required to follow the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In September, however, the Department of Justice adopted the 2010 ADA Guidelines for Accessible Design, which apply to public clubs that are under construction, undergoing renovation or were built before 1992 but haven’t yet complied with ADA guidelines, says Michael Fleming, senior principal for OLC Architecture, Denver. The standards go into effect on March 15, 2012. Some of those new requirements apply to locker rooms.

For example, at least 5 percent of lockers must be accessible to people with disabilities. This means more space is required in locker bays, Fleming says, but if there is a bench next to the lockers, the clear floor space no longer must be at the end of the bench, and a parallel approach to the front of the bench is permitted.

To comply with the new guidelines, clubs must allow 48 inches of space around the accessible lockers and ensure that the bottom of these lockers is not more than 15 inches off the floor, says Bob Martin, sales manager for Ideal Products Inc., Ontario, CA. Because only a small percentage of lockers need to be accessible, club owners often can buy a package from locker manufacturers that will make them ADA compliant for less money than buying new lockers. Ideal Product’s package includes an access symbol, adjustable shelf, 4-inch wire pull and side-mounted coat hook.

However, just making the lockers accessible is not enough unless the lockers have proper door hardware, says Julie Advocate, chief financial officer for Digilock, a Petaluma, CA, manufacturer of Celare locks and Digilock locks. Traditional locking options, such as padlocks, dial combination locks and key locks are not ADA compliant, she says.

“A locker, although ADA compliant when purchased, becomes non-compliant when locked with a non-compliant lock,” Advocate says.

The ADA requires locks to be operable with one hand and not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist with a five-pound maximum operable force. Since the early 1990s, Digilock has been manufacturing ADA-compliant keys, and five years ago, the company incorporated an ADA-compliant user key into all of its keypad-operated locks to make all of its locking products compliant with ADA regulations.

NEXT PAGE: OTHER ADA ISSUES FOR LOCKER ROOMS

Another manufacturer also is helping health clubs properly secure accessible lockers. Ojmar in Holland, MI, sells ADA User Keys, which feature a small wand that uses infrared technology to operate touch keypad locks. On nine out of 10 projects, club owners consider purchasing these keys for their members with disabilities, even though these keys add significantly more cost per locker, says James Oonk, U.S. sales manager for Ojmar.

“Every project always has budget considerations, and that is the tightrope that health clubs walk in making their facilities ADA compliant,” Oonk says. “The more that clubs market themselves to say that they are accessible, however, bodes well for the culture and overall feel of the club.”

For example, Poudre Valley Medical Center, whose average member is 50 years old, features accessible lockers in its locker rooms, ADA-compliant showers, and lockers, sinks and countertops that can be accessed by a member in a wheelchair, says Ryan Donovan, fitness supervisor. The 25,000-square-foot Windsor, CO, club opened last December and now has 1,200 members.

The majority of health clubs, however, probably have locker rooms that don’t meet current ADA requirements, says Karen Pyonin, CEO of Benco, Pine Brook, NJ, which sells ADA-compliant benches. For that reason, she expects to receive calls from club owners about the changes.

Although club owners may have to make a minimal investment to improve their accessibility, Earlene Sesker, accessibility specialist with the U.S. Access Board, says the changes are a monumental step in allowing people with disabilities to enjoy health clubs.

“Right now, they may be able to get into the facilities, but if the space is not there, they can’t get through and use the equipment,” says Sesker, who works for the independent federal agency that wrote the architectural specifications under the ADA Act. “Now they not only have access to the facilities, but they can get some use out of them.”