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Fitness center accessibility

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Physical activity is important for individuals of various ages, sizes and abilitilites. According to Healthy People 2010, activities that promote strength and flexibility are important because they may enhance functional independence, and encourage regular physical activity participation. These benefits are particularly important to help establish a good quality of life which involves being functionally independent and being able to perform the activities of daily living. Today, many environmental barriers exist within fitness centers that limit participation in exercise by individuals with mobility impairments (Rimmer, et al 2004). Objective 6-10 of Healthy People 2010 supports the need for accessible fitness facilities: Increase the proportion of health and wellness and treatment programs and facilities that provide full access for people with disabilities.


Assessments to Guide Fitness Center Accessiblity


    Pros - Quick checklist that gives general building accessiblity
    Cons - Not specific to exercise facilities, only gives minimal accessibility guidelines (no Universal Design implementation)


    Pros - Quick checklist that gives general building accessibility (access to and within) specific to individuals with mobility impairments
    Cons - Not specific to exercise facilities


    Pros - Specific to fitness facilities (Pools, Weight & Cardio Equipment, Locker Rooms, Bathrooms, Service Desk, Information, etc.)
    Cons - Lengthy in time to complete

Fitness Center Recommendations

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) issued final accessibility guidelines to serve as the basis for standards to be adopted by the Department of Justice for new construction and alterations of recreation facilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The guidelines include scoping and technical provisions for amusement rides, boating facilities, fishing piers and platforms, golf courses, miniature golf, sports facilities, and swimming pools and spas. The guidelines will ensure recreation facilities meet the requirements of the ADA and are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. By combining recommendations from the research by Rimmer and the Access Board, the following is a few recommendations for fitness facility specific locations:

Locker Rooms

Accessible Locker Room with Clear Seating and accessible lockers
Accessible Locker Room with Clear Seating and accessible lockers
  • At least 5 percent, but not less than one of each type (full, half, quarter, etc.) must be accessible. Accessible benches should be located adjacent to the accessible lockers.
  • Benches must have seats that are a minimum of 20 inches to a maximum of 24 inches in depth and 42 inches minimum in length. The seat height should be a minimum of 17 inches to a maximum of 19 inches above the finished floor. If the bench is not located next to a wall, the bench must have back support that is 42 inches minimum in length

Exercise Room


Clear space of 30 by 48 inches next to each type of equipment
Clear space of 30 by 48 inches next to each type of equipment
  • At least one clear path of access to each type of equipment is available
  • Floor surface should be easy to walk or roll over (rubberized flooring, low profile carpet
  • Clear floor space must be positioned to allow a person to transfer from a wheelchair or to use the equipment while seated in a wheelchair.


  • At least one of each type of exercise equipment or machine must have clear floor space of at least 30 by 48 inches and be served by an accessible route.
  • Weight machines have a low weight setting of 5# or less so individuals with low strength levels can participate
  • Weight pins can be easily adjusted with little effort
  • Use of hooks, wraps, gloves and other adaptive grip devices allows individuals with little grip strength to hold on to and use certain exercise equipment
  • Specific Universal Designed equipment such as arm ergometers, leg ergometers (Motomed) or equipment that does not require transferring from wheelchair should be available


  • Alternative exercises are given to those who are unable to stand when standing is expected during the exercise class

Swimming Pool

Chart of Accessible Entrances for Pools
Chart of Accessible Entrances for Pools
  • Accessible entrance into the water (ramp, stairs, lift)
  • Temperature of the water is between 88-92 degrees F (for therapeutic purposes)
  • Floatation aids available (water belts, head pillows, aqua weights, etc.)

Links To Resources

Sample Accessible Fitness Facilities

Product Links


  • Healthy People 2010. Accessed 3/04/2008.
  • Rimmer, Riley, Wang, Rauworth, & Jurkowski (2004). Physical activity participation among persons with disabilitiesBarriers and facilitators. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,26, 419-425.
  • Rimmer, Riley, Wang and Rauworth. (2005). Accessibility of Health Clubs for People with Mobility Disabilities and Visual Impairments. Journal of Public Health, 95.