Gyms and Fitness Centers are Called to Make Exercise Accessible to All

Swimming poolI swim for exercise. My Seeing Eye dog Whitney guides me to the pool, and the only stroke I do is the crawl. One arm or another is extended in front at all times, protecting me from crashing my head into the wall at the end of each lap. Tapping the lane marker on every other stroke keeps me swimming straight.

I’ve been swimming for decades now. I like going back and forth in space by myself in water. It’s kind of calming, and swimming is good cardiac exercise. I knew strength-training was important, too, and the place I swim at offers a room full of exercise machines for members to use. Only problem? I could never figure out a way to memorize which button or lever to push to get each machine going. Without being able to see, it was difficult to know how to adjust the weights. I could have worked out with a friend, I guess, but I kind of like to work out when it fits into my schedule. I don’t want to always rely on a staff worker or a friend to help me – I like to exercise by myself.

I thought I’d solved this problem when I found an audio book that explained how to use free weights at home, but without being able to watch myself in the mirror, I couldn’t see how poor my form was, and I ended up with a rotator cuff injury.

Baseball fans know about the rotator cuff – it’s at the shoulder joint, a tender spot for pitchers. It turns out rotator cuff injuries are common in any sport requiring repeated overhead arm movements. Tennis, for example. And improper weightlifting. After a year of physical therapy, my shoulder was healed. And I haven’t lifted a weight since.

That’s why I’m excited to hear that Senators Duckworth (IL), Casey (PA), and Blumenthal (CT) have reintroduced the Exercise and Fitness for All Act. If passed, this bill will create standards for exercise equipment to make fitness facilities across America more accessible for those of us with disabilities. From a press release announcing the bill:

The Exercise and Fitness for All Act would establish new federal guidelines to help ensure people with disabilities have the same opportunity to use fitness facilities as their able-bodied peers, and it would allow small businesses to use the Disabled Access Tax Credit to help cover the purchase of accessible exercise equipment.

Senator Duckworth, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, has completed four marathons since she lost her right leg near the hip and her left leg below the knee from injuries sustained on November 12, 2004, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. “No one should be denied the ability to lead a healthy lifestyle because they have a disability, but many exercise gyms and fitness facilities across our country are not accessible for people with disabilities and do not comply with federal rules,” Duckworth said. “I know firsthand how frustrating this problem is. This legislation will help reduce the barriers that prevent many Americans from accessing gyms across our country.”

Under current rules issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), fitness facilities are required to meet basic accessible design standards, such as providing sufficient space next to each type of exercise equipment so a person in a wheelchair can use it. However, many fitness facilities do not currently meet these standards. The Exercise and Fitness for All Act will help many facilities upgrade their facilities to comply with the law – and it would require the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that promotes accessibility, to issue updated guidelines specifying the numbers of and types of accessible equipment facilities should have.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the inaccessibility of many fitness facilities create barriers for those with a disability to exercise due to the lack of accessible space and equipment.

I hope this bill passes soon – I’m pumped to start lifting again!


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