Private and Public Policy Reviews for the Disabled

Eastside Athletic Club – Portland, Oregon Metro Area

By Stephen Rex Goode, BSW

Eastside Athletic Club in Clackamas, Oregon is a medium-sized athletic club. It has a weight room, cardio room with standard machines, rooms for classes, a pool, a co-ed hot tub, and dry saunas in the locker rooms.

It is well-maintained and somewhat modern. It’s a nice place and a good club. The staff is friendly and helpful. For people with mobility-related disabilities, there is an elevator to the top floor.

I have one main complaint related to disabilities and one complaint mostly unrelated, but still a pet peeve of mine.

As a caregiver to people with developmental disabilities, EAC does allow personal attendants like myself to access the facility to accompany a client, but strictly forbids them to use the equipment or things like the pool. I questioned the manager about this policy, so if others have a different experience than what I was told, please let me know.

I am a member of another club that is, like EAC, part of the Fit Life program, so I can go into EAC three times a month and use all of the equipment. However, at a time when I had used my three-visit privileges for that month but still needed to go to the club with a client. I was not allowed to dress in workout clothes. I was not allowed to use the weight or cardio machines. I was told that if I went into the pool area, I could not get in the water with my client, but I did have to remove my street shoes. I could have gone into the small room where the hot tub was, but would also have to remain in my streeth clothes.

I’ll say at this junture that I understand their problem. They probably have been burned in the past by people who come in with a club member and claim to be a personal attendant of some kind, but seem to be abusing the privelege to get into a gym for free. Such a policy would certainly dissuade such abuse, but it also limits the kinds of help that a mentor/attendant like me can provide.

For developmentally disabled (DD) clients, it is usually true that they don’t need any physical help using weight machines, cardio devices, or getting into a pool or hot tub. It’s also true that personal trainers are on-hand to instruct in proper use of equipment. The personal trainer there for my client is knowledgeable, personable, and helpful. However, there is not enough time for her to see to my client’s needs every time he goes in. She has her own clients whose time it is.

DD clients often need mentoring to be able to fully access a health club. They need their attendant to model appropriate use of the machine, safety practices, breathing, and someone to count reps for them. A personal trainer usually shows them once and they have to remember it and be thereafter on their own. It is critical to full access for my clients for me to be able to sit work out too as encouragement for them to do it and do it safely and correctly.

The same goes for the pool and the hot tub. Sitting on the side lines fully clothed while my client went into the water and tried to swim a lap was useless to him. He could have used my help, but I was relegated to an uncomfortable plastic chair.

I had to stand in the locker room near the entrance to the hot tub room while my client went in and enjoyed the hot tub. I don’t know about women’s locker rooms, but in a male locker room, a fully clothed man loitering for no apparent reason tends to arouse suspicion. Locker break-ins are common at health clubs and patrons are usually told to watch out for men who are just hanging around. It also doesn’t help my clients much, who often need my assistance with understanding socially appropriate behavior. Where is socially appropriate behavior more needed than locker rooms and hot tubs?

This illustrates an even larger problem with disabilities and access issues. There exists a lot of abuse of priveleges by people who claim to be personal attendants to the point where institutions are forced to adopt restrictive policies to prevent the theft of their services by people posing as personal attendants. There’s no identification card that I carry that identifies me as a mentor and attendant for developmentally disabled adults. When I introduce myself as such when with a client, I’m often met with suspicion. It’s understandable, but very inconvenient and negatively impacts access for my clients.

Despite the fact that I understand their problem, I think that athletic clubs like Eastside should make some effort to distinguish between legitimate care providers and impostors who are trying to steal services.

I mentioned another complaint not related to access for people with disabilities, although I do think that it has the potential for impacting them. There are no private family changing rooms at EAC. While I was in the locker room with a client, an older man brought in a young girl about six years old. They changed there in the men’s locker room, with naked men walking around an all. Maybe I’m a prude, but I tend to think that this is unhealthy for little girls and also tends to make men very uncomfortable. I know I was uncomfortable with it and I don’t think I was alone.

Moral issues about that aside, I also think that a private changing room would benefit some of my clients who are not yet ready to feel exposed to other people, or who may need some assistance that would be embarassing to the client if provided in front of other people. EAC should have at least one such room.

I contrast this with nearby North Clackamas Aquatic Park that has a row of about four private rooms big enough for two or three people to shower and dress.

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