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U.S. Access Board Holds Virtual Meeting on Inclusive Exercise and Fitness Equipment

July 15, 2021

The U.S. Access Board held its virtual public meeting on inclusive exercise and fitness equipment yesterday. The event featured panel presentations on the need for access to fitness equipment, efforts to address equipment accessibility, and implementation of inclusive fitness equipment. Invited speakers included advocates, researchers, industry representatives, and three current and former Paralympians.

Tammy Duckworth

Access Board Public Member Karen Tamley hosted the event and began by introducing Senator Tammy Duckworth, a decorated veteran who has championed the cause of accessible fitness equipment for persons with disabilities. In her video message, Senator Duckworth remarked that “significant work remains to be done to make sure that Americans with disabilities have equal opportunity to exercise” and “increasing the accessibility of exercise equipment would help all Americans achieve better health outcomes.” Later this month, Senator Duckworth plans to re-introduce the Exercise and Fitness for All Act that would require the Access Board to issue guidelines and scoping requirements of exercise equipment in fitness facilities and the Department of Justice to implement regulations.

Lex Gillette

Next, Paralympian Lex Gillette, a blind long jumper preparing for the Tokyo games, discussed his experiences with fitness equipment and facilities, particularly the lack of communication features. He stated, “myself and other people who have a disability sometimes have to come up with different hacks and tricks to be able to operate these pieces of equipment. In representing Team USA, it is very important that I maintain a high level of training so that I can be the best athlete I can be, not only for myself but for Team USA.”

In the first panel, Kelly Bonner of National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, Lakeshore, and Clark Rachfal of American Council of the Blind presented on the exigency for inclusive fitness equipment. Bonner noted that equity should be emphasized over equality and that disability is health disparity and not a health outcome. Bonner pointed to numerous resources offered on NCHPAD’s website to help organizations implement inclusive fitness programs. Rachfal also discussed the importance of fitness opportunities for persons with disabilities, noting that people who are blind or have low vision have higher rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, especially minorities and people of color. He further discussed American Council of the Blind’s recent work with an exercise bike manufacturer to include communication features that make the equipment more accessible for independent use by people who are blind or have low vision.

The second panel included technical experts, advocates, and researchers who focused on current efforts to identify technical specifications for accessible fitness equipment. Access Board Accessibility Specialist Bill Botten highlighted scoping and technical requirements, including clear floor space and accessible routes, for accessible fitness equipment and facilities in the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Standards. Dr. Stephanie Schnorbus Stephens of Beneficial Designs, Inc. and Chair of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Standards Committee on Inclusive Fitness presented on ongoing work to map a way for fitness facilities to consider inclusivity for people of all abilities rather than simply ticking off the accessibility requirements. She also discussed the recently published American National Standard For Inclusive Fitness – Volume 1: Inclusive Fitness Environments for fitness facility owners, trainers, managers, and consumers.

Richard Thesing of Mobility Fitness talked about his work on an ASTM committee, an international voluntary organization focused on consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services. This committee work included developing universal design specifications for inclusive exercise equipment, and Thesing showed various equipment that include accessible features and design, as well as highlighted additional work needed in this area. Dr. Beth Barstow and Sangeetha Padalabalanarayanan of The University of Alabama at Birmingham and The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Recreational Technologies (RERC Rec-Tech) reviewed research that facilitated the ASTM and RESNA-IF processes, noted barriers and facilitators on the use of standards for fitness equipment, and introduced a mapping system to locate accessible physical activity resources.

In the third panel, presenters from industry and academia homed in on implementation of inclusive fitness equipment. Gus LaZear of Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center discussed the work the non-profit organization conducted in piloting universal fitness programs. He shared various types of exercise equipment designed with inclusive features, such as adaptive and swivel seats, medicine balls that include straps or handles for easier use, and communication elements for equipment operation. Dr. Catherine Carty, of Munster Technological University and manager of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Chair in Inclusive Physical Activity, presented on UFIT (Universal Fitness Innovation and Transformation), an international program that works to make the fitness sector more inclusive by providing inclusivity training, certification, and resources for fitness organizations.

Jon Walker and Lloyd Reese of Playcore presented on its GameTime brand outdoor fitness equipment that are designed with inclusive features. They reviewed their work with parks, municipalities, and recreational sites to provide fitness equipment that can be used by all. Ileana Rodriguez, Principal of I Design Access, LLC architecture firm and a former Paralympic swimmer, discussed her background and experiences with inaccessible gyms and public parks, imploring everyone to work with architects and designers in moving forward with making inclusive fitness equipment and facilities.

A recording of the session is available on the Board’s YouTube Channel. Presentation materials are available in PPT (24MB) or PDF (7MB) formats. To receive updates on inclusive fitness equipment, sign up for the Board’s News e-subscription.

Moving Forward: Access to Inclusive Fitness Equipment 

July 14, 2021, 1:00 – 3:15 (ET)

Agenda 

1:00 – 3:15 Moving Forward: Access to Inclusive Fitness Equipment 

  • Welcome, Karen Tamley, Access Board Public Member
  • Opening Remarks
    • U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth
    • Lex Gillette, Paralympian
  • Panel on Need for Inclusive Fitness Equipment
    • Kelly Bonner, National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, Lakeshore
    • Clark Rachfal, American Council of the Blind
  • Panel on Ongoing Inclusive Fitness Initiatives
    • Dr. Stephanie Schnorbus Stephens, Beneficial Designs, Inc. and Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA)
    • Richard Thesing, Mobility Fitness
    • Dr. Beth Barstow and Sangeetha Padalabalanarayanan, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Panel on Implementation of Inclusive Fitness Equipment
    • Gus LaZear, Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center
    • Dr. Catherine Carty, Munster Technological University
    • Jon Walker and Lloyd Reese, Playcore
    • Ileana Rodriguez, I Design Access, LLC
  • Closing Remarks

3:15 – 3:30 Break

3:30 – 4:30 Regular Board Business

  • Introductory Remarks
  • Executive Director’s Report
  • Standing Committee Reports
  • Election Assistance Commission
  • Ad Hoc Committee Reports
  • New Business