The physical environment must be accessible to people with disabilities in order for them to be able to participate in physical activity, recreation, sports, and physical education in the same way as people without disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and sets the basic standard for accessibility. Under Title III, the ADA requires that public fitness, private fitness, and recreation facilities be accessible to people with disabilities in areas such as parking, accessible routes, and restrooms. Yet, many facilities do not meet even these minimum requirements.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice adopted revised Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, which included the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The 2010 Standards for Accessible Design are a revision of the 1991 Access Board Guidelines with additional sections that cover recreation facilities, play areas, and state and local government facilities.
The design standards include relevant chapters from the Access Board's 2004 ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines, as well as revisions to the 1991 Access Board guidelines, with some modifications. To learn about the changes specific to recreation facilities follow the link.
Resources for Improving Accessibility
Universal Design goes a step beyond the ADA to create an environment that is more useable by all people, not just those with a disability. It is defined as"the design of products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design". One of the most widely recognized examples of Universal Design is the family changing room, because it benefits not only persons with disabilities but also parents with children of the opposite sex or those who just require more space.
Universal Design Resources
- The Center for Universal Design is a national information, technical assistance and research center that evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible and universal design in housing, commercial and public facilities, outdoor environments, and products.
- Removing Barriers to Health Clubs and Fitness Facilities is a guide developed by the North Carolina Office on Disability and Health, in collaboration with the Center for Universal Design, which provides ways to make a health club's facility and services more accessible to all people, including people with disabilities and older adults.
- An illustrated and interactive demonstration of ways to improve the accessibility of a fitness center can be found on the National Center for Health, Physical Activity and Disability's website. Click on Before and After a Fitness Center Makeover.
Follow this link for more information on Universal Design research.
One of the widely recognized barriers to participation in physical activity and recreation for people with disabilities is the availability of adaptive equipment. For many people with disabilities a piece of adaptive equipment can be the link between being able to participate and not being able to participate. Adaptive equipment can range from a simple cuff, allowing someone with poor grip to hold onto a handle, to a handcycle, which enables those without the use of their legs to enjoy cycling. Part of creating an accessible environment is providing access to adaptive equipment. This is especially important in circumstances where equipment cannot be easily transported, such as fitness centers.
Resources on Accessible Equipment
The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Recreational Technologies (RERC RecTech) at the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The primary mission of the RERC RecTech is to expand new knowledge and research on recreation technology for people with disabilities, and to disseminate technology development through education, training and collaboration with private sectors. For more information and equipment resources visit the website at RERC on Recreational Technology and Exercise Physiology.