Target: The Ripley, Tennessee Family Fitness Center
Goal: Condemn the Family Fitness Center for turning away teenager after learning that she has Down syndrome
A gym in Ripley, Tennessee is facing scrutiny after refusing entry to a teenager with Down syndrome. The Family Fitness Center where 13-year-old Mollie Cates tried to attend with her parents and sister stated that they “didn’t have anyone trained to meet Mollie’s needs.” However, Mollie’s parents, Sherrie and Kevin Cates have asserted that Mollie attends regular physical education classes and participates in school sports with her classmates. Because of this, she would not necessarily need any extra assistance by gym staff. Rather than because of a lack of trained personnel, Mollie’s parents believe the gym refused service to their family simply because of their daughter’s chromosomal disorder.
Regardless of the reason behind it, by turning away Mollie based on her disability, the Family Fitness Center has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA, signed into law by George H. W. Bush in 1990, specifically prohibits disability-based discrimination. The Family Fitness Center could be facing serious repercussions regarding their infringement on Mollie’s rights, should the family choose to pursue the matter. Mollie’s mother, Sherrie Cates stated that part of their decision to join the particular gym was based on the establishment’s brochure, which claims that, “they [The Family Fitness Center] don’t turn anyone away, anyone can come in.”
In addition to legal issues surrounding the Family Fitness Center’s decision to deny services to Mollie and her family based on Mollie’s condition, the gym has worked to reinforce discriminatory attitudes against those with disabilities. Furthermore, the lack of “trained” staff members ready to accommodate any gym member who may have a disability reveals that the Family Fitness Center was at least partially subscribing to inaccurate stereotypes surrounding disabled people and exercise. Mainstream culture does not promote a heavy correlation between those who may have certain disorders and a need or desire to work out. However, exercising in a structured, comfortable environment has been proven to sometimes be extremely beneficial, as it provides a means for socialization and stability.
By turning away Mollie from their facility, the Family Fitness Center has made it clear that they are not ashamed to discriminate based on disability. Demand that the Family Fitness Center apologize to Mollie and her family for refusing them service, and that they allow Mollie and future disabled customers equal access to their facility in the future.
Dear Ripley Family Fitness Center Management,
A recent story detailing your establishment’s refusal to provide service to Mollie Cates and her family due to Mollie’s Down syndrome is utterly shameful. The staff at the time claimed that there was no one adequately trained to assist Mollie, despite her parents asserting that she does not need extra assistance. Mollie participates in regular classes at her school, including physical education. Furthermore, the larger issue remains of why the Family Fitness Center does not provide sufficient training for its staff regarding members who may face certain disabilities and challenges.
By refusing Mollie entry into your facility, you have worked to reinforce stereotypes surrounding people with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Furthermore, discriminating against Mollie based on her disorder is not only a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but is morally reprehensible as well.
I ask that you apologize to Mollie and the Cates family and that you allow access not only to their family, but also to all who desire membership to your gym in the future, regardless of whether they have a disability.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: localfitness.com.au via Wikimedia Commons