By: Jessica Beecham
There is nothing more frustrating for me as a blind person than waking up at 5 in the morning to grab a few miles before a long day of sitting in a conference just to realize that every piece of workout equipment at your hotel is either flat screen or touch screen. These are the types of frustrations that blind people and others with disabilities have to deal with when trying to workout at places of public accommodation like standalone fitness facilities, college gyms, corporate work spaces, and hotels with fitness centers. Even though Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act intends that people with disabilities should have access not only to the physical building, but to the programs, services, and equipment which it offers, Title III as well as other U.S. Access Board standards and guidelines related to fitness facilities do not address what accessibility of exercise equipment should look like.
This makes things tricky not only for individuals with disabilities trying to work out in places of public accommodation, but also for the gym owners/managers who might like to offer exercise equipment that is accessible but do not know what accessibility really means. Furthermore, manufacturers of exercise equipment have nothing to guide them in the manufacturing of accessible fitness equipment, creating a vicious cycle in which new inaccessible exercise equipment is produced, fitness facilities purchase it for their establishments, and people with disabilities are left unable to work out independently.
This year, at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind a resolution was passed that would call on fitness facilities to work with the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division and the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute to ensure that fitness equipment that they purchase for their facilities is as accessible as possible for blind people. According to Title III of the ADA, only one of each type of exercise equipment has to be accessible. This means that fitness facilities will not have to go out and purchase all new equipment to provide accessibility, they will simply have to make sure that at least one of each type of equipment is usable for blind consumers. Although there is currently no commercial equipment on the market that is fully accessible to blind users, there are pieces of equipment that can be turned on and adjusted independently. While consumers will still lack access to many of the attractive features such as customized programs, health information tracking, and workout statistics that are available to other users, there is equipment that would allow them the ability to work out independently.
The second piece of the resolution urges Congress to grant the U.S. Access Board authority to create standards for accessible fitness equipment. This would be a game changer. Not only would gym owners/managers know what to look for in accessible equipment for people with a variety of disabilities, manufacturers would also know what features they should include to make exercise equipment truly accessible. WE Fit wellness plans to support the work of the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division to ensure that standards are adopted. As we move forward, we will be seeking the support of individuals with disabilities, organizations representing individuals with disabilities, and others who are passionate about people with disabilities achieving equality when it comes to accessing exercise equipment in places of public accommodation. If you will join us in our quest to make fitness equipment in places of public accommodation accessible, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can keep you up to date on the latest happenings.