Recreation Facilities and Fitness Centers

Access Equals Opportunity Your Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act

Recreation Facilities and Fitness Centers

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) calls for businesses to make their facilities, goods, and services accessible to all people with disabilities.  The ADA is good business because access for everyone is the key to attracting new customers and retaining those you now serve.

This Guide will help you work creatively to comply with requirements of the public accommodations section of the Act for existing businesses.  It contains suggestions for readily achievable-cheap and easy-methods for removing architectural barriers; methods for achieving effective communication; and guidance for determining whether your policies or procedures might exclude some people with disabilities.

To make sure that the Guide provides practical answers to your questions, seven Better Business Bureaus in different regions of the country brought together local business leaders and disability rights groups to discuss their concerns and questions about compliance.  Instructive answers to the most frequently asked questions are included.

The Guide was produced by the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation in conjunction with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).  Initial funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.  The Foundation and DREDF have joined together in a partnership for compliance to help small and mid-sized businesses understand what they have to do to comply
with the ADA. 

Copyright 1992
Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation

The Council of Better Business Bureaus' members are 400 national corporations and more than 150 Better Business Bureaus around the country whose members are 250,000 small and mid-sized businesses.  The Council's Foundation is an education and research organization.

DREDF is a national law and policy center dedicated to furthering the civil rights of people with disabilities.  It is managed and directed by people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities.  DREDF is universally credited for their leadership in the passage of the ADA.

We are working together to promote voluntary compliance with the Act.  Businesses that fail to comply are subject to administrative complaints, lawsuits, and fines.  People in business who read this Guide will learn that compliance really is good for business.

We thank all who helped produce this Guide: the Better Business Bureaus of Austin, Boston, Denver, Fresno, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Toledo; the participating local business and disability leaders; the staff and consultants of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Foundation, and DREDF; and the staff of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Barbara Bode, Executive Director, Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation

Liz Savage, National Director of Training and Technical Assistance, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

July, 1992



The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the nation's first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities.  The ADA changes the way America does business.

The ADA aims to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities by ensuring equal opportunity in employment, state and local government services and programs, places of public accommodation, public and private transportation, and telecommunications.  This publication provides an overview of Title III of the Act, Public Accommodations, with a specific emphasis on
requirements for existing facilities and current service practices.

Who is protected?

Under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or someone with a record of such an impairment, or one who is regarded as having such an impairment.

Examples of disabilities include orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; mental retardation; psychiatric disability; specific learning disabilities; HIV disease (whether symptomatic or
asymptomatic); tuberculosis; drug addiction (although people who are currently illegally using drugs are not covered); and alcoholism.

What are "Public Accommodations" under the ADA?

Title III of the ADA specifies twelve types of entities that, regardless of  size, are public accommodations: places of lodging, exhibition or entertainment, public gathering, public display or collection, recreation, and exercise; private educational institutions; establishments serving food or drink; sales or rental establishments; service establishments; stations used for specific public transportation; and social service center establishments.

When must public accommodations comply with the ADA?

Title III went into effect on January 26, 1992, for all covered businesses, including small ones.  However, small businesses have been given a grace period before legal action can be taken against them.  For businesses with 10 or fewer employees and gross annual receipts of less than $500,000, the grace period extends until January 26, 1993.  This grace period does not apply to violations of the ADA's requirements for new construction or alterations.

Actions that are discriminatory

The ADA identifies actions that discriminate against people with disabilities.  In general, denial of the right to participate and unequal or separate treatment are prohibited by the ADA.  For example, a business cannot ask a person with a disability to leave because an employee or another customer is uncomfortable with that person's disability or because its insurance company conditions coverage or rates on the absence of people with disabilities.  Nor, for example, can people with disabilities be limited to attending only certain performances at a theater.

Services in an integrated setting

Title III requires that public accommodations provide their services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible.

Reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures

Public accommodations are required to make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, and procedures in order to make their goods and services available to people with disabilities unless the business can demonstrate that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services provided.  For example, an auto rental agency with a policy requiring that the person who will be driving the vehicle must pay for the rental of the vehicle would be required to modify that policy by making an exception to allow the person with a disability who has arranged for someone else to drive to rent the vehicle using a credit card, provided the driver of the vehicle has valid driver's license.

Eligibility criteria

A public accommodation is not allowed to apply eligibility criteria for its goods or services that tend to, or that actually do, screen out people with disabilities except when the criteria are necessary to provide the goods or services that are being offered.  For example, an automobile dealer cannot
require an individual to state on a credit application whether the applicant has a disability because this information is not relevant to obtaining credit approval and could be used to exclude a customer illegally from credit eligibility.

The ADA also requires that any criteria used be applied fairly and equally to all members of the public.  It prohibits public accommodations from basing their eligibility criteria on assumptions that would unnecessarily exclude individuals with disabilities who, in fact, are eligible to participate in an

Effective communication with the public

Public accommodations are required to communicate effectively with customers or clients who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech or vision impairments by whatever means are appropriate.  In the ADA, the term "auxiliary aids and services" refers to the means for achieving effective communication.  This term includes sign language interpreters; written materials; assistive listening devices; Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDDs); taped, brailled, or large print materials; readers; and other communication tools.

The auxiliary aid requirement is a flexible one.  The goal is to find an effective means of communication that is appropriate for the particular circumstance.  For example, interpreters are not required if a deaf customer has come into an automobile sales showroom merely to look at the latest models.  The dealer would be able to communicate general information about models available by providing brochures, exchanging notes by pen and note pad, or taking turns at a computer keyboard.  However, this means of communication may not be sufficient in complex consumer transactions such as those necessary when a deaf individual becomes serious about buying a car.

A business is not required to provide any particular auxiliary aid or service that it can demonstrate would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services being provided or would result in an undue burden on the business.  It must, however, provide those needed auxiliary aids and services that would not result in an undue burden.  "Undue burden" is defined as significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of a variety of factors including the nature and cost of the auxiliary aid or service and the overall financial and other resources of the business.  The undue burden  standard is intended to be applied on a case-by-case basis.

Removal of architectural barriers in existing facilities-What is "Readily Achievable"?

Public accommodations are required to remove architectural barriers-those elements of a facility that impede access by people with disabilities-to ensure access for customers, clients, or patrons where it is possible to do so in a readily achievable manner.  Examples of barriers are curbs and steps; narrow exterior and interior doorways and aisles; rest room doorways and stalls that are too narrow for use by a person who uses a wheelchair; and inaccessible drinking fountains and telephones.

The ADA defines "readily achievable" as "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense."  Examples of barrier removal possibilities include providing a ramp for one or even several steps, widening doorways, reconfiguring display shelves to increase aisle width, widening bathroom doorways, moving toilet stall partitions, and installing grab bars.

The readily achievable standard does not require barrier removal that involves extensive restructuring or burdensome expense.  Required barrier removal for a particular public accommodation will depend on its financial and other resources.  The readily achievable standard is intended to be a flexible one that is applied on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended an order of priorities for barrier removal that it urges businesses to follow.  First, provide access from parking areas, sidewalks, and entrances to the public accommodation so a person with a disability can "get through the door."  Second, provide access to those areas where goods and services are provided.  Third, provide access to rest room facilities when they are open to the public.  Fourth, take other measures to provide access to the goods, services, or facilities.

The questions and answers in this Guide are organized according to priorities.

Landlord and tenant-Allocation of responsibility for complying with Title III of the ADA

Both the landlord who owns the building where a public accommodation is located and the tenant who owns or operates the public accommodation are responsible for compliance with Title III.  They may allocate between themselves the responsibility for meeting their mutual obligations however they wish.

Allocation of responsibilities between landlord and tenant for removing barriers when readily achievable, providing auxiliary aids and services, and modifying policies, both in common areas as well as within places of public accommodation, may be determined by the lease or other contract between the parties.  Alterations clauses in a lease often spell out what a tenant is allowed to do within leased space, while compliance clauses allocate responsibility to one party or another for compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

Tenants are advised to review ADA obligations with their landlords.  Those tenants who are entering into new leases should negotiate and allocate responsibility for ADA compliance with their landlord.  Failure to determine, allocate, and execute ADA responsibility may result in either the tenant's or landlord's liability for noncompliance.

Accessibility Guidelines

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board can serve as a guide for identifying the various kinds of measures that can be taken to remove barriers and as a guide for how best to remove them.

If there are steps to the front entrance and the front door is very narrow, businesses must provide a ramp and widen the door according to ADAAG standards if it is readily achievable to do so.  If it is not readily achievable to follow the ADAAG standards for ramps and doorways, public accommodations must take other safe, readily achievable measures, such as installation of a slightly narrower door or a narrower door or a slightly steeper ramp than that permitted by the ADAAG.  Although these barrier removal measures would not meet the ADAAG standards for alterations, they would nevertheless afford significant access for many customers or clients.

Where some elements of a facility come very close to meeting the ADAAG standards and others fall far short, public accommodations are advised to put first priority on removing the barriers that most deviate from ADAAG standards.  For example, if the front entrance already has a ramp that is just slightly steeper than that permitted by the ADAAG and the front door is just slightly narrower than that permitted by the ADAAG, but elements in interior areas that serve clients or customers are wholly inaccessible, public accommodations should turn their attention first to the barriers that are the biggest impediments for their customers or clients.  They should remove those that can be removed in a readily achievable manner before turning their attention to elements that deviate only slightly from the ADAAG standards.

It is a good idea for public accommodations to become familiar with the full array of access concerns that the ADAAG addresses.

For a free copy of the ADAAG contact:
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F. Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC  20004-1111
(800)USA-ABLE (Voice/TDD)

Barrier removal and effective communication-A continuing obligation

Readily achievable barrier removal is a continuing obligation.  Barrier removal that was not readily achievable initially may later be required because the public accommodation has more resources available.  Therefore, a public accommodation must continually monitor its accessibility as well as its financial and other resources and engage in barrier removal as new measures become readily achievable.

Achieving effective communication for people with disabilities is also a continuing obligation.  Auxiliary aids that were not required initially because they pose an undue burden may be required later in light of changing resources or changing technologies.

Alternative methods

If providing access by removing barriers is not readily achievable, the law requires public accommodations to provide readily achievable alternatives to barrier removal.  For example, if an automobile dealer cannot eliminate barriers to the showroom, sales negotiations could be conducted at another location or at the customer's home.


Public accommodations may not assess any surcharges on individuals with disabilities for auxiliary aids and services, barrier removal, or alternative measures taken in lieu of barrier removal.

Alterations of existing facilities.

Title III requires that physical alterations to public accommodations undertaken after January 26, 1992, be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities to the maximum extent feasible.  The term "alterations" refers to changes a business is undertaking for its own purposes, such as renovation, and does not refer to steps a business takes to comply with the ADA's requirements for barrier removal.  Alterations that affect or could affect usability are required to be accessible.

When alterations are made to "primary function areas"-work areas and areas used by the public-alterations must also be made to provide an accessible path of travel to the altered areas.  "Path of travel" means access to rest rooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving the area.  The cost of providing an accessible path of travel need not exceed 20 percent of the total cost of
the original alterations.

New construction

All newly constructed facilities must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities if a completed application for a building permit or permit extension was filed after January 25, 1992, and the facility is occupied after January 26, 1993.

The technical standards for accessible new construction and alterations are set out in the ADAAG.

What do these requirements of the ADA mean to you?

Congress and DOJ recognize that businesses not only are unique but also have different financial and other resources.  Although most public accommodations will have to do something to comply with the ADA, the law allows businesses to determine on a case-by-case bases what steps must be taken to comply.

Here are a few simple steps that DOJ recommends for getting started:

  • Contact organizations of or for people with disabilities in your community to help identify physical barriers to your facility or your goods or services and to familiarize you with various kinds of auxiliary aids and services that can help you communicate effectively with your customers or clients. 
  • Make a list of architectural, policy, and communication barriers. 
  • In consultation with organizations of or for people with disabilities, set priorities for removing architectural barriers, changing any discriminatory policies, and providing effective      communication.
  • Develop an implementation plan designed to achieve compliance with the ADA.  Such a plan, if appropriately designed and diligently executed, could serve as evidence of a good faith effort to comply.
Tax incentives

Congress also has amended the Internal Revenue Code to include tax incentives for businesses that incur expenses in removing barriers or increasing accessibility for people with disabilities.  The "Tax Deduction to Remove Architectural and Transportation Barriers to People with Disabilities and Elderly Individuals" (Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, Section 190) allows a deduction for "qualified architectural and transportation barrier removal expenses" not to exceed $15,000 for any taxable year.  The "Disabled Access Tax Credit" (Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, Section 44) is available to eligible small businesses with 30 or fewer employees or $1 million or less in gross annual receipts.  This provision allows a tax credit of 50 percent of eligible access expenditures tat exceed $250 but do not exceed $10,250 made for the purpose of complying with the ADA during the tax year.

For more information on these tax provisions, contact the Internal Revenue Service, Office of the Chief Counsel, PO BOX 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044, (202) 62203110 (voice only).

Please note that this Guide provides only an overview of the ADA.  There may be other requirements that are not discussed here but that do apply to your business.  Detailed information about a business' obligations with respect to employment are not covered, and requirements for new construction and alterations of existing facilities are discussed only briefly.

The following section answers some common questions about compliance with the public accommodations section of the ADA raised by automobile dealers, rental establishments, and service stations.


Q.   Are recreation and fitness facilities considered to be places of     public accommodation?

A.   Yes.  Privately operated recreation and fitness facilities are covered by Title III.  Examples include video arcades, gyms, heath spas, bowling alleys, golf courses, billiard halls, and facilities where boating and swimming programs are offered.

Q.   Are recreation facilities and fitness centers required to have TDDs (Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf)?

A.   No.  For making calls to and receiving calls from customers with hearing or speech impairments who use TDDs, retail stores will be able to rely on the relay systems that telephone companies must establish by July 26, 1993.  Operators employed by relay systems will relay communications between TDD-users and people using conventional telephones.  Only those businesses that allow customers to make outgoing calls on more than an incidental convenience basis must provide TDDs.

 Recreation and fitness facilities can ensure effective communication by training staff who answer the telephone to anticipate incoming calls through the relay services.  Handling these calls may take longer because an operator at the relay system will be receiving typed communications from the caller and will also be using the relay system equipment to type communications from the staff person to the caller.  Training should be undertaken as soon as possible because at least 40 states already offer some type of relay service. 

 For your information, however, a TDD is relatively inexpensive, usually costing about $275 and would be a welcome service for customers with hearing or speech impairments.  If you have a TDD, be sure to list your telephone number followed by "Voice/TDD" in any publications or advertisements to signify that customers can communicate with you by voice or TDD.

Q.   Are recreation and fitness facilities that offer parking required to provide accessible parking spaces for people with mobility impairments?  If such parking is required, how many spaces must be provided? 

A.   Yes.  If a recreation facility owns and operates the parking lot, it must provide accessible parking if it is readily achievable to do so.  If a recreation or fitness facility is a tenant, responsibility for providing accessible parking rests with both the landlord and the tenant.  These responsibilities may be allocated between the landlord and tenant in the lease or other contract. 

 The spaces must comply with the dimensions specified in the ADAAG if it is readily achievable to meet those standards.  The ADAAG also specifies a formula for determining the number of accessible spaces which must be followed if it is readily achievable to do so.  If it is not readily achievable to comply with the ADAAG standards for the number and dimensions of accessible spaces, a recreation or fitness facility must provide as many spaces as readily achievable and of readily achievable dimensions.

If it is not readily achievable to provide any accessible spaces, a retail store must provide readily achievable alternatives to barrier removal.  For example, retail stores could consider providing valet parking as an alternative method of providing access.

Q.   Are recreation and fitness facilities required to remove barriers posed by sidewalk curbs?

A.   Curb cuts (also known as curb ramps) enable people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices to have ready access to businesses.  If the only parking available is on a city street and the business does not have ownership or control of the sidewalk, the municipality, not the recreation or fitness facility, is responsible for providing curb ramps.  If the facility owns or controls the sidewalk, it must provide curb ramps if readily achievable.  If a recreation or fitness facility is a tenant, responsibility for providing curb ramps rests with both the landlord and the tenant. 

The ADAAG establishes standards for construction of curb ramps that must be followed if readily achievable.

Q.   Must all entrances to existing recreation and fitness facilities be accessible?

A.   No, but one entrance, preferably the main entrance, must be accessible, making it possible for people with disabilities to "get through the door." 

 Recreation facilities that use security devices such as turnstiles can provide access for patrons with mobility impairments by installing gates or providing an alternate means of entry.
 If there are steps up to the entrance, ramping one step or even several steps will be readily achievable for most recreational and fitness facilities

 Installation of a permanent ramp, rather than a portable one, is required unless such installation is not readily achievable.  If a public accommodation cannot meet the ADAAG technical requirements for ramps because of space or other limitations, it can deviate slightly from these specifications as long as the ramp is still safe.

 If a permanent ramp cannot be installed, a portable ramp must be used if readily achievable.  Portable, i.e., moveable, ramps also must be safe.  Most portable ramps are relatively inexpensive to purchase or construct.

 A recreation or fitness facility using a portable ramp should install a doorbell or intercom (with an appropriate sign) to summon an employee to bring the ramp to the door if readily achievable.  If the accessible entrance is one other than the main entrance, a sign at the main entrance should indicate where the accessible entrance is located.

 If the accessible entrance is one other that the main entrance, a sign at the main entrance should indicate where the accessible entrance is located. 

Q.   How do recreation and fitness facilities know if the doorway for the accessible entrance is wide enough for customers who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices?

A.   The ADAAG standard states that a minimum of 32 inches of clear opening measured between the face of the door and the opposite stop when the door is opened 90 degrees is required to provide access to customers who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices.  Offset hinges can increase the amount of clear space by several inches.

 Automatic or push button doors are the best for providing access.  Whether installing them is readily achievable or not depends on the circumstances of the individual retail store.

 Another measure that makes doors easier to use, not only for customers who use mobility devices but also for those who have conditions that limit their manual dexterity, is to install lever or U-shaped handles.  Some retrofit levers cost less than $10 and can improve access significantly.

 Adjusting door closures or springs and oiling hinges are also inexpensive steps that make it easier to open doors and prevent them from closing too quickly.  Widening doors, installing accessible door handles, and making door adjustments are examples of modifications that will be readily achievable for most businesses.

Q.   Must recreation and fitness facilities allow service animals, including guide dogs, to accompany customers with disabilities into their places of business?

A.   Yes.

Q.   Can a recreation and fitness facility exclude a person with a disability because his or her disability or behavior resulting from the disability may be disturbing to other customers?

A.   No.  The ADA specifically prohibits this type of discrimination against people with disabilities.

Q.   Can recreation or fitness facilities exclude people with disabilities from their facilities because of increased insurance costs or the fear of increased insurance costs?

A.   No.  Recreation and fitness facilities cannot discriminate against or otherwise exclude people with disabilities from joining or from using a facility based on fear of, or an actual increase in, liability insurance premiums.  Recreation and fitness centers also cannot refuse to admit or accept for membership an individual with a disability because of concern that the person inadvertently injure himself or herself.

Q.   If an individual with a disability is injured while using equipment at a recreational or fitness facility, is the facility liable for the injury?

A.   The ADA does not create standards governing liability in case of injury.  If an injury occurs, state negligence laws will govern liability.  The ADA prohibits businesses from refusing service to a person with a disability because of fear of injury to the person.

Q.   Can a recreation or fitness facility require that people with disabilities use separate facilities or attend separate programs?

A.   No, provided the individual meets the eligibility requirements for participation in the program available to the general public.  Relegating people with disabilities to separate facilities or programs is prohibited by the ADA unless necessary to provide an equally effective opportunity to participate.  The ADA requires that people with disabilities be provided an equal opportunity to participate in programs in integrated settings.

Q.   Does the ADA preclude recreation or fitness facilities from establishing safety requirements for the use of their equipment?  How can a recreation or fitness facility determine if a person with a disability is capable of operating the exercise equipment?

A.   Recreation facilities and fitness centers may impose neutral, legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for the safe operation of its equipment.  However, the facility must ensure that its safety requirements are based on real risks, not on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about people with disabilities.  For example, a wilderness tour company may require participants to meet a certain level of swimming proficiency to participate in a rafting expedition.

Also, a recreation or fitness facility is not required to guarantee that an individual with a disability will achieve an identical result or level of achievement as people who do not have disabilities.  For example, an individual who uses a wheelchair may not be excluded from an exercise class at a health club because he or she cannot do all the exercises and derive the same results from the class as people who do not have disabilities.

The best way for a recreation facility or fitness center to assess the abilities of a person with a disability is to ask whether he or she is able to operate the equipment in question, has some previous experience with the equipment, meets any safety requirements, or requires some modification or adaptation of equipment, policies, or procedures in order to participate.

Recreation facilities and fitness centers should act in the spirit of collaboration with the individual to make an appropriate case- by-case determination about an individual's capability to operate equipment or meet safety requirements.

Q.   How can a recreation or fitness facility determine whether its premises are accessible to people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices?  What steps must be taken to provide access?

A.   Although there are significant differences between various types of facilities, a few general, common sense rules apply to a basic evaluation of accessibility for most recreation and fitness centers.

For indoor facilities, determine whether pathways and doorways between activity areas, such as video machines, lounges, bowling lanes, bars, classrooms, pools, saunas, hot tubs, and other facilities are wide enough for a person using a wheelchair or other mobility devices.  Are there vending machines or supplies stored in hallways or other areas that might block passage?

Rearranging exercise equipment, furniture, and storage items and widening doors and stalls are examples of methods to improve access that will be readily achievable for most facilities.

Are there level changes between locker rooms and the exercise equipment, saunas, lounges, bowling lanes, or other activity areas?  Installing a permanent ramp for one or even several steps is a method of improving access that will be readily achievable for most businesses.  If installation of a permanent ramp is not readily achievable, safe, portable ramps are required if readily achievable.

If portable ramps are used, a sign should indicate how the ramps can be obtained.

For outdoor facilities, determine whether there are steps or other obstacles along paths or walkways that would prevent someone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility device from traveling on them or from reaching an activity area such as a swimming pool or picnic ground.  As with indoor facilities, ramps are required to provide access if readily achievable.

For picnic, boating, or other outdoor recreation or fitness facilities, evaluate whether people with disabilities can reach and use the facilities.  Can people with disabilities reach the picnic tables?  Does spectator seating provide wheelchair access?  Is there an adequate sight line from the wheelchair accessible seating are to the events?  Removal of such barriers is required to provide access when it is readily achievable.

When it is not readily achievable for recreation or fitness facility to remove some or all barriers to access, the facility must devise other readily achievable alternatives to barrier removal.

Q.   If an individual with a mobility impairment wants to use equipment or facilities on another level of a facility that is not service by an elevator, does the facility have to provide a means of access to the upper level?

A.   Perhaps.  Although installing an elevator will not be readily achievable for most facilities, some access to other levels may be required.  If there are only several steps to reach the other levels, which might be the situation in a bowling alley, a ramp is required if it is readily achievable to install one.  If there are many steps, providing access to there levels might required installation of a wheelchair lift, which is much less expensive than an elevator.  Other alternatives include using accessible alternate routes such as a service entrance.

Facilities that have limited space and resources and no alternative routes available must take other creative, readily achievable steps to make the facilities and services on other levels available.  courtesy and common sense should dictate what methods are most suitable.  Alternative methods could include moving a small selection of video games, exercise or other equipment, or some classes to the accessible level.

Q.   Are recreation and fitness facilities required to provide any assistance to individuals with disabilities so they can participate in the facilities' programs and activities?

A.   In some situations reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures to include minimal staff assistance may be required if the modification does not result in a fundamental alteration of the program.  For example, staff members in some weight rooms stabilize weight lifters' wheelchairs even if they do not routinely provide similar assistance to other clients or members.  Some facilities also provide additional instruction about the use of particular exercise machines to individuals who have cognitive impairments such as mental retardation.  Likewise, some health clubs assist individuals with disabilities into and out of pools and hot tubs, and some of them have installed floor- mounted pool lifts. If staff is limited, a customer or member could be allowed to provide his or her own attendant at a waived membership rate.

Q.   How can recreation and fitness facilities communicate effectively with members, clients, and customers how are blind or have limited vision?

A.   Any printed information about the facility, including program descriptions, price lists, and class schedules, must be available in alternate formats that are accessible to people with vision impairments if providing them does not result in an undue burden.  Large print formats are useful to people with limited vision, including older people.  Providing taped information and a cassette player is a good alternative for many people with vision impairments.  Recreation and fitness facility staff can also read materials to patrons where it is appropriate to do so.

The floor designations on elevators control panels and signs indicating rest room facilities must be made accessible by providing raised letter, Braille, and large, high-contrast letters if readily achievable.  Instructions posted or mounted to explain how to use exercise equipment must be made accessible by providing the information verbally, in large print, by audio cassette, or in Braille, as appropriate, if this can be done without undue burden.

Q.   How can a recreation or fitness facility communicate effectively with a member, client, or customer who is deaf or hard of hearing or who has a speech impairment?

A.   Most customers who are deaf or hard of hearing will identify themselves by writing a note or using hand gestures.  When an auto service person has determined that a customer is deaf or hard of hearing, he or she can communicate by writing notes.  Maintaining face-to-face contact is important for communications with a customer who read lips.

If a recreation or fitness facility offers an activity such as martial arts training where complex concepts must be communicated clearly, the facility must provide a qualified sign language interpreter for deaf patrons if doing so does not cause an undue burden.  If it offers an exercise class or another activity where communications are not complex, the instructor could meet with deaf patrons beforehand and inform them about the program or activity using a pen and note pad or computer terminal to communicate or could provide printed information to them.

Instructors or group leaders can communicate effectively with individuals who are hard of hearing by allowing the individual(s) to sit or stand near the instructor or group leader.

It is also important for recreation and fitness facilities to communicate effectively with customers who have speech impairments.  Allowing sufficient time for a person with such a disability to express himself or herself or to spell out a message on his or her word board are examples of methods to achieve effective communication.

Q.   Must fitness centers provide accessible rest rooms and showers?  How can these facilities be made accessible?

A.   Shower and rest room facilities are central components in many fitness centers' programs.  Therefore, when readily achievable, at least one accessible rest room and shower must be available.

Certain relatively simple steps can increase access and usability.  Widening entry and stall doors; moving obstacles such as vending machines; rearranging toilet partitions to increase maneuverability for customers using wheelchairs; installing a raised toilet seat; installing grab bars near the toilet; repositioning paper towel dispensers; installing lever handles on at least one sink; and installing insulation material around exposed lavatory pipes to prevent wheelchair users from burning their legs while sitting at the sink are examples of readily achievable measures for most businesses.

Where showers are available, an accessible shower stall must also be available if readily achievable.

If a fitness center provides more than one rest room and not all are accessible, a sign should indicate where the accessible rest room(s) is (are) located.

Simple symbols indicating which facilities are for men or women are easier for some people with cognitive impairments (such as mental retardation) to understand than words or other images.  Raised letters and Braille differentiating men's and women's rest rooms are important for people who are blind, and large, high- contrast signs help people with limited vision.  Retail stores must take all of these measures if readily achievable.

Q.   Must recreational and fitness facilities have accessible drinking fountains?

A.   Facilities with drinking fountains must make them accessible if it is readily achievable to do so.  To make fountains accessible, mount them low enough to be easily reached from a sitting position or install a paper cup dispenser within easy reach.

Q.   Are health and fitness centers that provide public telephones required to provide wheelchair accessible public telephones?

A.   If a facility provides public telephones, at lease one telephone must be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices if readily achievable.  If providing an accessible telephone is not readily achievable, then readily achievable alternative methods of providing access to a telephone are required.  For example, facilities can offer customers who cannot use the public telephone the use of a private telephone.  A sign should be posted near the public telephone(s) specifying the location of an accessible telephone and/or whom the person should contact to arrange for its use if readily achievable.

This Guide provides general information to promote voluntary compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  It was prepared under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.  While the Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act has reviewed its contents, any opinions or interpretations in this document are those of the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.  The ADA itself and the Department's ADA regulations should be consulted for further, more specific guidance.

This Guide is available in alternative formats.  For more information contact:

Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation
4200 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA  22203
(703) 247-3656


U.S. Department of Justice
Office on ADA
P.O. Box 66738
Washington, DC  20035-9998
(202) 514-0301 Voice
(202) 514-0307 Voice
(202) 514-0383 TDD

Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F. Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC  20004-1111
(800) 872-2253 Voice/TDD
(202) 272-5434 Voice/TDD

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Office of Legal Counsel, ADA Services
1801 L. Street, NW
Washington, DC  20507
(202) 663-4503 Voice
(800) 669-3362 Voice
(202) 663-7026 TDD

Job Accommodation Network
West Virginia University
809 Allen Hall
Morgantown, WV  26506-6123
(800) 526-7234 Voice/TDD
(800) ADA-WORK

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research: 
Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers
(800) 949-4ADA

The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities
1331 Fth Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC  20004-1107
(202) 376-6200 Voice
(202) 376-6205 TDD

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
1633 Q Street, NW, Suite 220
Washington, DC  20009
(202) 986-0375 Voice/TDD

2212 Sixth Street
Berkeley, CA  94710
(510) 644-2555 Voice
(510) 644-2626 TDD
(800) 466-4232 Hotline