Article: Fitness Accessibility for People with Disabilities

Fitness Accessibility for People with Disabilities

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About Fitness Accessibility in Our Community

Overview of Issue Impacts

Physical activity plays an important role in maintaining health, well-being, and quality of life. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, physical activity can help control weight, improve mental health, and lower the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Physical activity can also improve mental health by reducing depression and anxiety. For people with disabilities, physical activity can help support activities of daily living and their independence. It is recommended that all adults, with or without disabilities, get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of aerobic exercise per week. However, less than half of U.S adults with a mobility disability report engaging in aerobic physical activity and report more environmental barriers such as sidewalks, public transit, and walkable shops and more barriers like traffic, crime, and animals than those without disabilities. One in four U.S. adults is living with a disability and can be defined as:

  1. Serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  2. Deafness or serious difficulty hearing
  3. Blindness or serious difficulty seeing
  4. Serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  5. Difficulty doing errands alone or difficulty dressing or bathing (1).

Having a disability is not an indicator of poor health. In fact, people with disabilities look toward fitness facilities to meet their health and exercise needs. For many people with disabilities, exercise is a necessity for management of their condition. Furthermore, accessibility is more than a ramp into the building or a larger toilet stall. Equipment, programs, and policies contribute to an environment that promotes accessibility for people with disabilities. It can be argued that even the basic requirements of the ADA are not sufficient enough to offer the flexibility needed to allow people with disabilities to meet their exercise goals. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is an important piece of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimi­nation against people with disabilities in all activities, programs, or services including fitness facilities. To comply with the ADA, businesses must make people with disabilities able to get into and around their facility, and receive the same benefits, services, and information provided by all other participants. The number of people who experience some kind of disability during their lifetime increases as the population ages. This creates more opportunities for fitness facilities to expand their business practices towards people with disabilities (2).

Lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating combined is the second leading preventable cause of death in North Carolina. Being overweight and obesity can lead to disability as they can result in arthritis, breathing problems, osteoarthritis, asthma and psychological disorders such as depression. People who have disabilities are more sedentary than others who do not, which puts them at high risk for obesity. People with disabilities experience obstacles specific to their condition which can hinder their physical activity. Moreover, one out of five North Carolinians will have a disability during their lifetime. It is because of this statistic that the North Carolina Plan to Promote the Health of People with Disabilities, or NC Plan for short, was established to improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities in North Carolina by promoting increased access to services and opportunities and by decreasing health disparities (3).

Populations Affected by Issue

Fast Facts

Additional Resources

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Page Contributors

Thank you to the following contributors:

  • Spring 2021:
    • Robert C.

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Last updated April 2021

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