For over 30 years, Helen Durkin has worked with health clubs around the world to promote healthy lifestyles. She is a committed advocate of the benefits of physical activity, and to increasing public policies that promote wellness.
Durkin understands the challenges people face in becoming and staying physically active in an increasingly sedentary society. As IHRSA's Executive Vice President of Public Policy and the current President of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA), she stays up-to-date on the latest fitness industry trends.
As part of our latest IHRSA Expert Series, we asked Durkin why health clubs need to be with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She also shares what we need if the industry is to become more inclusive.
Watch the video above, or you can read the transcript below.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed almost 30 years ago. I think that the Americans with Disabilities Act has traditionally meant an additional building expense for clubs.
But the other part of the Americans with Disabilities Act is the idea of making a public accommodation—which is a health club—accessible for everybody. To make a reasonable accommodation for accessibility. So that's kind of the traditional piece that's been there.
I think an important thing that we're really seeing is the whole idea of inclusivity in general. The idea that the world should be more welcoming to people with disabilities is a trend that we see globally.
Countries that have never had specific, broad disability acts are considering those broad disability rights. Canada, the U.K., European Union, looking at all those.
So I think that there's sort of a societal trend.
The law to be inclusive can only go so far. It's time to make a culture change in clubs. So it's less about rules and more about having a culture that's welcoming to people of all abilities.
A club told me a story once. So, the club was working with a hospital that did bariatric surgery and one of the conditions in the bariatric surgery is that they have to work out before the surgery. But the bariatric program at the hospital was very disappointed in the results.
Why weren't they getting enough patients going to this facility?
Turns out that the problem became that the sizes of the towels weren't big enough. And so you had people group that were grossly obese needing bariatric surgery who weren't comfortable coming into the club.
How do you legislate for that? You don't.
If you start thinking about, "how can my club be welcoming and inclusive to everybody, beyond the traditional 20%?" Then you start putting yourself in the shoes of the people that don't traditionally come into clubs. And [you] start thinking about what impediments, what barriers have we placed in the way that makes it less comfortable.
I think it's really an important goal for the industry. [We] all agree that we need to get beyond sort of the traditional 20% or so that we serve.
How do we do that?
We reach out to get people that look differently than the people that are currently in the club, and that includes people with disabilities and chronic disease.
And we fundamentally believe that while the Americans with Disabilities Act is based on the premise of "build it," I think the club operators are a little bit frustrated by just building it doesn't mean they'll come.
And that means creating a social change in working with disability organizations and people to make sure that [your] club is a welcoming place.