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Welcoming the Disabled Spa-goer

By: Naomi Serviss
Posted: September 28, 2012, from the October 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
The Royal Caribbean cruise line follows the lead of the ADA accessibility guidelines for land-based facilities, resulting in leading-edge spas that are available for all clients, disabled or otherwise.

The Royal Caribbean cruise line follows the lead of the ADA accessibility guidelines for land-based facilities, resulting in leading-edge spas that are available for all clients, disabled or otherwise.

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Another spa with accessibility is the Exhale brand, with 20 spas in the United States, according to Julia Sutton, the company’s chief operating officer. The Exhale organization is only nine-years-old and has designed each spa to be wheelchair-friendly. The latest opening is in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and each spa is compatible with ADA regulations. “Our newest spa is called Revel, and we just had a wonderful encounter with a disabled client there,” Sutton says. “We built the spas to ensure that someone in a wheelchair would be able to get into the treatment rooms. And all of the tables in the Atlantic City location are hydraulic. We have several clients who appreciate how accessible we are,” she states. “We have a blind client and a person with spinal injuries, among others. Exhale is not so much about pampering as it is about healing and transformation, so this is truly why our therapists are in the business: to help heal.”

Larger resort/destination spas have traditionally been accessible, including the Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont properties. “Ritz Carlton spas have been wheelchair accessible for years,” says John Hopp, head of the spa division in North America. “Clients can get onto our hydraulic tables from a relatively low position. Many of our pools are already accessible, and we are reviewing fitness centers for ADA compliance,” he says.

Gadabout SalonSpas in Tucson, Arizona, offer clients accessible hydraulic tables and entryways that accommodate wheelchairs through hallways and to treatment rooms. “We own all of our facilities, so we have adequate access for handicap parking spaces,” explains Megan Jasper, director of marketing and operations. “We live in a community where we service many clients who have special needs and have adapted our spa experience to accommodate anyone.”

Spa Eastman, a health and wellness spa outside Montreal, is celebrating its 35th anniversary, and is dedicated to bringing healing and well-being to all clients. Jocelyna Dubuc, president and founder of the award-winning spa, often sees disabled clients on-site. “We have hydraulic tables and one fully accessible room for clients,” she says. One client, who is wheelchair-bound, was able to enjoy Watsu, a gentle form of body therapy that takes place in warm water. At Spa Eastman, disabled clients are helped into a warm pool by two therapists in swimwear. “He was so tense in the beginning,” Dubuc says. Then, slowly, he unwound and started relaxing. His wife, also a massage therapist, was in the pool, and they both ended up crying. “Happy tears,” Dubuc emphasizes. “That treatment was just ‘wow,’ and it was moving for everyone there. The same client also enjoyed a facial while in his own wheelchair that was able to recline.”

Become more open

Henry, the San Francisco spa-goer, has some constructive comments about how day spas could become more open to the disabled community. “There are many different kinds of accessibility,” she says. “Ramps are fine, but if the bathroom isn’t accessible, what’s the point?” Some spas have relaxation rooms that are anything but to the disabled client. “If the sofas are really low, it’s difficult getting up and down from them. And handrails could be put up a lot more than they are. It would help lots of people,” suggests Henry.