Friday, September 7, 2012

What would an accessible fitness facility look like?

For a moment, I want to share a dream with you.  This dream involves a space for fun physical activity for as many bodies as possible.  Tall bodies, short bodies, young bodies, old bodies, thin bodies, fat bodies, walking bodies, rolling get the picture.

Author in a black cap, black Challenged Athletes Foundation shirt, blue pants, and blue framed wheelchair
Me before my first wheeled 5k
Part of this dream comes from the multitude of frustrations I have with using the fitness facilities available to me.  I had the displeasure of finding out that I couldn't take the TRX class at my campus rec center because the door to the room was not wheelchair accessible.  I was able to use one of the recumbent bikes, but had to park my chair in the middle of the running track as the only piece of cardio equipment with enough space to park a chair next to was the handbike...assuming that the only people that would need wheelchair parking space would be someone who is paralyzed.

Needless to say, it was frustrating but really got me thinking about what a fitness center based on Universal Design principles might look like.

This dream involves a space that is welcoming to all sorts of bodies, even from looking at the outer structure of the building.  Wide walkways with places to park bikes, trikes, handbikes, mopeds, scooters.  Adequate parking with spaces designed for the various ways people get out of their vehicles.  A nearby bus stop that is close to the gym.

The building itself would have automated doors with wide doorways.  The check-in desk wouldn't have a turnstile, but would have some other method of traffic control that is accessible to folks with large gym bags, folks using wheels or scooters, and folks who are fat.  The building would either have no carpet or very thin carpet that is easy to maneuver for folks moving around in various ways.  Both the elevator and stairs (if it's multiple floors) would be easy to find and navigate, and wide enough to allow for easy movement.

There would be cardio equipment that allows for a variety of people, including recumbent bikes that allow for the seat arms to be pushed away so a wider person could use it, treadmills that a wheelchair user could roll on, and machines that allow a visually impaired person to set their workout.  The water fountains wouldn't be blocked by mats or rugs.  Group fitness rooms would be set up with wide doors, equipment that can be reached from a variety of heights, and with sound systems that are clear and allow the instructor to be heard.

Staff would be readily available and trained to assist in a variety of ways.  There would be someone in the free weights who can help move dumbbells and barbell plates, who can spot lifts if a person doesn't have a workout partner, and who can make sure benches and other equipment are maintained in a way to allow for free movement of people throughout the space.  The weight machines would be spaced far enough to allow for bodies of a variety of sizes to be able to get in and out, and allow for safe transfer from wheels to machine and back.  There would be child care that patrons could use as a part of their membership that would accept all children and give them fun physical activity.

There would be indoor courts for basketball, volleyball, tennis with appropriate flooring for both seated and standing sports.  Studios for dance, yoga, Pilates, martial arts.  Ideally pools with lap swimming, a heated therapy pool, and a hot tub, all with ramps and lifts to allow a variety of bodies to get in and out safely.  Maybe even a climbing wall.

There would be no messages about fat loss, calorie burn, or other body-hating messages.  It would be about fun, challenge, strength, joy, and community.

What am I missing?  What would you see in this space?


  1. It would look like SpoFit, which does have a climbing wall. It also has changing rooms which have temperature controlled showers, and large padded tables so that you can lie down to change or have your caregiver assist you with changing.

    It's decorated with larger than life images of kick ass disabled athletes, as well as disabled people doing a variety of recreational activities.

    1. Thank you for telling me about SpoFit. If I ever get a chance to go to Phoenix, I'm definitely checking it out!!