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Fitness centers that are open to the public must be accessible to all people, including those with disabilities. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates this. Only two studies have examined physical activity compliance with the ADA guidelines. The studies occurred in two different geographic regions and were conducted by different groups of researchers. The results of these studies are summarized in Table 1.

A major finding of these two studies is that among the 84 facilities assessed, no facility was found to be 100 percent ADA compliant. The structural areas in poorest compliance were accessibility to and around equipment (8% to 16%), customer service desk (21% to 37%), and, in the Kansas City study, restrooms/locker rooms (0%). The areas with greatest compliance were exterior entrances/doors (70% to 90%) and telephones (74% to 88%).

“Some of the areas of non-compliance were simple to address,” said Marc D. Spaziani, co-author of the western Oregon study. “The mats in the weight room had a high edge, garbage cans needed to be moved from in front of the drinking fountains or the phones were placed high to be out of reach of kids but could not be accessed by someone in a wheelchair.”

“But many of the problems related more to a lack of space,” he added. “A club will add new equipment or cardio machines and cram them into existing space — and suddenly there's no room to maneuver anymore.” Creating more space, by adding on to or remodeling a facility, may not seem like a realistic option for some club owners. But help is available.

For example, the federal government offers tax credits and deductions to businesses to help them offset the cost of becoming ADA compliant. Some of these opportunities are highlighted in the document, ADA Guide for Small Businesses. The document is free and can be accessed and downloaded from the web at

Clubs may also profit by marketing themselves as an ADA-compliant facility. For example, the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability has developed a database of accessible recreation and fitness programs. Anyone can use the service free of charge by going into their web site at and using the “Search for recreation and fitness programs” by city and state. A list of specific programs and services will be generated for the area requested.

Accessible facilities may also lead to increased membership. For example, Crosstrainers Fitness Forum in Clinton Township, MI is a fully accessible fitness facility ( Approximately 10 percent of their patrons have a disability. Even so, they have a goal of attracting more people with disabilities to join their center.

For some privately owned clubs, ADA compliance may come more gradually said Rick Bennett, owner of Corvallis Fitness Center in Oregon. “I have some barriers. I have a building that was built in 1922. Handicapped requirements didn't exist then.” Regardless, Bennett is committed to removing the barriers that do exist. For example, he recently put in a new accessible drinking fountain. Two of Bennett's regular members use wheelchairs.

To become familiar with the ADA guidelines the document, Removing Barriers to Health Clubs and Fitness Facilities, should be reviewed. This document can be accessed and downloaded free from the North Carolina Office on Disability and Health's web site at The document reviews the basic ADA guidelines and offers helpful tips on how to make a fitness center more accessible to those with disabilities. It also provides contact information for owners and managers who may have questions or need help with any aspect of the ADA.

Club owners and managers are encouraged to review the ADA resources listed and to undertake their own local assessments using the checklist provided. Areas found to be in non-compliance should be prioritized and effort should be made to overcome them.

According to Spaziani, many of the club owners and managers he met in the western Oregon study seemed open to this idea. “The compliance issues appear to stem primarily from a lack of knowledge, which can be addressed. Most of the people I talked to were quite willing to change what they could.”

Bradley J. Cardinal, Ph.D., FACSM, is Associate Professor, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. He can be reached by phone at 541-737-2506, by fax at 541-737-2788 or by e-mail at

Table 1: Facility Compliance with the ADA Guidelines.

Percentage of Facilities ADA Compliant by Geographic Region Structural

Western Oregona Kansas Cityb

Domain (N = 50) (N = 34)

Customer Service Desk 37% 21%
Accessibility to and Around Exercise Equipment 8% 16%
Drinking Fountains 55% 15%
Telephones 88% 74%
Restrooms/Locker Rooms 44% 0%
Elevators 83% 48%
Path of Travel 58% 48%
Exterior Entrances/Doors 90% 70%
Ramps 83% 30%
Parking 56% 24%

a Cardinal, B. J., & Spaziani, M. D. (2003). ADA compliance and the accessibility of physical activity facilities in western Oregon. American Journal of Health Promotion, 17, 197-201.

b Figoni, S. F., McClain, L., Bell, A. A., Degnan, J. M., Norbury, N. E., & Rettele, R. R. (1998). Accessibility of physical fitness facilities in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Topics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, 3(3), 66-78.

Table 2: A Sample Checklist for Assessment of Accessibility of Physical Activity Facilities.


  1. Is accessible parking provided?
  2. Does facility have appropriate number of parking spaces?
  3. Are accessible parking spaces the closest spaces to the building's accessible entrances?
  4. Are spaces clearly identifiable (marked with accessibility symbol through signs in front of spaces and/or painted directly on the spaces)?


  1. Is the building accessible without ramps?
  2. Do ramps have an incline no steeper than 1" for every 12" with maximum rise of 30" per run?
  3. Do ramps have landing areas at least 60" × 60" at the top and the bottom of the landing?
  4. Is the ramp width a minimum of 36" excluding the flared sides?


  1. Is opening a door required to enter the building?
  2. Do doors have a minimum clear opening space of 32" and maximum doorway depth of 24"?
  3. Can the door be opened without hardware that requires grasping or twisting?
  4. Is there a series of doors required to enter the building?


  1. Is there an accessible route at least 36" wide from the facility entrance to all areas within the building (excluding areas not normally frequented by non-employees)?
  2. Is route free of permanent obstruction(s)?
  3. Is route free of temporary obstruction(s)?
  4. Do routes which are less than 60" wide have passing spaces of 60" × 60" at reasonable intervals (not to exceed every 200 ft)?


  1. Is an elevator required to access all levels of the facility? If no, skip to F.
  2. Are public elevators located in the public area that will access all levels?
  3. Are the hall call buttons centered at 42" above the floor or lower?
  4. Does the area below the hail call buttons allow the wheelchair to approach? (Mark “no” if objects project into the lobby 4" or more.)


  1. Are public restrooms provided?
  2. Are restroom doors at least 32" wide?
  3. Is there an unobstructed turning space of 60" × 60" in the restroom (no door swings in this space)?
  4. Are toilet stalls used in the restroom?
    Is the toilet height 17" to 19" from floor to top of seat?


  1. Are public telephones provided?
  2. Is there a floor space of at least 30" × 48" to allow forward or side approach?
  3. Is the highest operable part mounted at 54" for side approach or 48" for front approach (or lower)?
  4. Is the cord from the ear piece to the base at least 29" long?


  1. Are public drinking fountains provided? If no, skip to I.
  2. Do wall-mounted units have clear knee space from the floor to bottom of the fountain of at least 27" high, 30" wide, 17" deep and floor space of 30" × 48" for front approach?
  3. Do free standing units have clear floor spaces of 30" × 40" for side approach?
  4. Is the spout of the fountain 36" from the floor, or lower?


  1. Is there an accessible route of at least 36" width to, between, and around all exercise equipment within the facility?
  2. Is route free of permanent obstruction(s)?
  3. Is route free of temporary obstruction(s)?
  4. Is the route on floors surfaces, which are slip resistant, stable and firm?


  1. Does the desk or counter have a portion with a maximum of 36" in height and a width of at least 36"?

* For the complete list go to

Read Up On Compliance

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