April 30, 2019

Ahead of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, Duckworth, Casey & Blumenthal Re-Introduce Bill to Make Fitness Facilities More Accessible for People with Disabilities

Sunday marked the 41st anniversary of successful protests by the disability community for implementation of the historic Rehabilitation Act disability rights law


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) re-introduced legislation today to make fitness facilities across America more accessible for those with disabilities. The Exercise and Fitness for All Act would establish new federal guidelines to help ensure people with disabilities have the same opportunity to use fitness facilities as their able-bodied peers, and it would allow small businesses to use the Disabled Access Tax Credit to help cover the purchase of accessible exercise equipment. Duckworth has completed four marathons since her injury, fulfilling a promise she made to herself at Walter Reed.

“No one should be denied the ability to lead a healthy lifestyle because they have a disability, but many exercise gyms and fitness facilities across our country are not accessible for people with disabilities and do not comply with federal rules,” Duckworth said. “I know firsthand how frustrating this problem is. This legislation will help reduce the barriers that prevent many Americans from accessing gyms across our country.”

“Everyone deserves the opportunity for a healthy life,” Casey said. “People with disabilities are more at risk for cardiac and respiratory disease and for developing diabetes. This bill increases the likelihood that a person with a disability will have access to accessible equipment and to a professional who can support their efforts to be fit and prevent diseases.”

“This bill would ensure every American has equal opportunity and physical access to gyms and fitness facilities,” said Blumenthal.  “We must tear down all barriers that prevent people living with disabilities from reaching for the American Dream—including barriers to physical and emotional wellness.”

Under current rules issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), fitness facilities are required to meet basic accessible design standards, such as providing sufficient space next to each type of exercise equipment so a person in a wheelchair can use it. However, many fitness facilities do not currently meet these standards. The Exercise and Fitness for All Act will help many facilities upgrade their facilities to comply with the law – and it would require the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that promotes accessibility, to issue updated guidelines specifying the numbers of and types of accessible equipment facilities should have.

The re-introduction also coincides with the 41st anniversary of the end of historic protests by the disability community in San Francisco and Washington D.C. in 1977. The protests resulted in the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the country and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act had been signed into law in 1973, but the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare had refused to implement the new rules until these protests occurred.

Adults living with a disability experience far higher rates of obesity and chronic disease than those without a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also found the inaccessibility of many fitness facilities create barriers for those will a disability to exercise due to the lack of accessible space and equipment.