Health clubs not accessible to disabled people
Last Updated: 2003-01-13 13:03:09 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A survey of 50 gyms and health clubs in Oregon found that none were fully accessible to people with a range of disabilities.

The findings are based on observations and measurements of 10 different areas in which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that facilities comply.

The majority (90%) of facilities had entrance doors that were accessible and nearly as many had telephone accessibility for people with amputation, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities.

However, just 8% of facilities had exercise equipment that was accessible and 37% had a customer service desk that complied with standards. The researchers estimate that the results may be overly optimistic, since nearly 20% of owners contacted for the study refused to participate.

It is not clear whether the results from Oregon reflect compliance in other parts of the US, but the findings, published in the January/February issue of the Journal of Health Promotion, may help to explain why physical activity among people with disabilities remains low, according to the study's authors.

"The environmental constraints identified in this study might be limiting factors in efforts aimed at increasing individuals with disabilities' physical activity involvement," Dr. Bradley J. Cardinal and Marc D. Spaziani from Oregon State University in Corvallis conclude.

"This, in turn, may cause frustration and disappointment, resulting in a total denial of services, and ultimately a loss of health and functional status among individuals with disabilities," they add.

In other findings, 55% of drinking fountains, 44% of restrooms or locker rooms, 83% of elevators and 56% of parking lots were accessible to people with disabilities.

The study authors say they hope their findings will serve as a wake-up call to owners of physical activity facilities. In the study, many owners and managers were unaware that their facilities did not comply with national guidelines for people with disabilities.

The federal government offers tax incentives to businesses that are accessible, the researchers note.

SOURCE: Journal of Health Promotion 2003;17.