Three Ways to Make your Gym more Accessible for Adaptive Athletes

March 8, 2020 by
Photo credit: Snake River CrossFit
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When most people think about accessibility compliance they think about mobility-based laws, like ramps, which are governed by the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But, there are many other ways you can easily make your gym more inviting and inclusive for all athletes that are often overlooked.

Here are three things you can do today to re-organize your equipment and make your gym more accessible for athletes with disabilities.

Place Equipment at Varying Heights

Try this: Grab a chair and take it on a tour of your gym to see if you can reach all of the equipment from a seated position…and not just the 5lb weights on the bottom shelf!

Can you Reach the Top Row of Medicine Balls?

Affiliates often organize equipment by weight — lighter on top and heaviest on the bottom.  This makes sense as far as ease of lifting the weight, but it may make it so that not everyone can reach the weight they need. This is very common with medicine balls but could happen with just about any piece of equipment, including dumbbells, kettlebells and slam balls.

How to fix it: Re-organize the equipment so that there’s a variety of weights at all heights.  Think vertical organization rather than horizontal. The typical guidance is to have a 48-inch accessible reach range, with the bottom no lower than 15 inches. Not only will your athletes in wheelchairs appreciate the change, but your shorter athletes will also love you as well.

Photo credit: Rogue Fitness

Clear a 3-Foot Path to All Equipment

Can you Reach the Bands Hanging on the Wall?

Even the most organized gym can inadvertently set equipment in front of and below other hanging equipment. Don’t know where to put your GHD or gymnastics mats? How about in front of the rack of weight belts and bands? Nope!

One of the most common accessibility mistakes is to hang equipment, like jump ropes or bands, but unintentionally block the path or the ability to reach the equipment with other stuff.  This could be a semi-permanent design flaw or gym members haphazardly leaving equipment out (that never happens, right?!).

How to fix it: Put yourself in the shoes of a wheelchair user, athlete with balance instability, or person who is visually impaired.  Now make sure you can safely reach all of your equipment. You can also whip out a tape measure to 36 inches and hold it parallel to your shoulders. Use that width to make sure you can either move your chair, or easily walk to any piece of equipment (stationary or moveable). The 36” standard is an ADA minimum clearance, but it should also provide enough space for most athletes with limitations.

Make Sure Your Weight Plates Aren’t Stacked Vertically

Can you get weight plates on and off the storage rack?

As a former gym owner, my favorite way to organize weight plates were with vertical stackers. We had some that could be rolled around the gym and it made it really easy for athletes to store their plates after a heavy barbell WOD…that is if you have two fully functional hands!  

Photo credit: Rogue Fitness

Imagine trying to take a 45lb rubber plate off of a 3ft vertical pole with one hand.  I for one can’t even put away a set of 5lb change plates without crushing my fingers every time!

Logan Aldridge, Adaptive Training Academy seminar staff, says that stacking plates vertically, either on the ground or on a pole, is the number one accessibility violation he faces in CrossFit affiliates. Aldridge is the top single-arm athlete in the world and can clean a 255lb barbell with one hand, but says it’s nearly impossible to unload and load a vertically stacked plate without assistance.

Aldridge: “Definitely the hardest thing I do in a CrossFit gym is not the exercise, but trying to pull the plates off of one of those weight trees!”

How to fix it: Don’t use vertical plate stackers or stack your plates on the ground. Instead opt for a horizontal stack or shelf system, or add a couple of horizontal plate storage pins on your rig.

Stay tuned every week for more accessibility and inclusion-focused guidance from Adaptive Training Academy. Next week we’ll continue with tips on how to make your affiliate more accessible.

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