Dec 17, 2010
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Research suggests that built environments influence physical activity and participation[i].  I look at “built environments” from a perspective of access.   Access is a concept beyond building codes and construction.   I have been presented with the difficult question: If given the choice; would I “cure” my walking issue to have the ability to do more, have more access, and more opportunities?

My answer to the posed question is always, “This is who I am. I would not know how to be any different or function another way.”  Having stiffness from Spastic Cerebral Palsy and using some type of cane, crutch, or walking pole to walk is just a part of my everyday life.  It is similar to someone putting on eye glasses to see.

Growing up, there was no notion of “Universal Design”.  The idea of constructing buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible and barrier free is right in principle; however the concept and application have not caught on fully in public settings or the health and fitness worlds.

Access means not having to struggle to open a door because the door handle is the wrong shape, it is not too heavy to open and there is no other obstacle which prevents entry.   True access means that doors are easy to open, surfaces are flat, and that the accessible entry is not a mile and half around a building.

True access would mean the business location is accessible by public transportation and that people who are non-drivers or who have mobility issues would not have to walk a quarter mile or more or cross multiple lane highways from the bus stop to get where they want to go. True access would mean that the interior of the facility would have open space, clear signage, and not have chairs, equipment, or displays positioned too close, blocking aisles, or space that I need to move. Equipment would instead be positioned in a way where there is no hazard of tripping or other physical barrier that might interfere with a support device. Counters would not be too high to complete business transactions.  Accessible fitness equipment with modified seating and other adaptations would not be considered too costly or “special” and would become standard in typical health and wellness facilities.

As a woman with disabilities, I have the same health concerns as most.   For example, some people worry about their weight. I also worry about gaining weight, and yet rarely is my weight accurately monitored.

Most fitness centers I have been to only have the scales that people stand on.  Due to my need of  walking devices for balance support, an accurate weight measurement cannot be taken.  How am I aware if I put on weight, besides when my jeans become snug.

Access as a holistic concept needs to continue to evolve beyond meeting legal mandates and introducing disability awareness concepts (e.g. this is what disability is).  Access to me means equal participation, which is age-appropriate, in an environment that is obstacle free. What does it mean to you?

[i] Powell KE, Martin LM, Chowdhury PP. Places to walk: convenience and regular physical activity. Am J Public Health 2003;93:1519 –21.

Troped PJ, Saunders RP, Pate RR, Reininger B, Addy CL. Correlates of recreational and transportation physical activity among adults in a New England community. Prev Med 2003;37:304 –10.

Giles-Corti B, Donovan RJ. The relative influence of individual, social and physical environment determinants of physical activity. Soc Sci Med 2002;54:1793–1812.

Humpel N, Owen N, Leslie E. Environmental factors associated with adults’ participation in physical activity: a review. Am J Prev Med 2002;22:188 –99.

Author: Kerry

  • jr

    Nice photo of a clutter-free entrance to a fitness facility but I wonder about the height of the front desk – Can a wheelchair user make eye-to-eye contact with the person at the desk? Are there other photos you can share?