US fitness chain scraps disabled campaigner’s reasonable adjustments… then apologises for the ‘inconvenience’ – Disability News Service

A luxury US chain that suddenly removed the reasonable adjustments that allowed a disabled campaigner to take part in its “spin” fitness classes has been accused of breaching equality laws.
Rebecca Ogbonna (pictured) had been attending sessions at the Soho and Notting Hill branches of SoulCycle in London for more than a year.
But last month, SoulCycle suddenly told her it was scrapping the adjustments that had allowed her to book her favourite spin sessions early so she could reserve a bike that was close enough to the instructor for her to see the instructions.
The company offers workout classes that combine cycling machines with candlelight, carefully-selected playlists and choreography, with devotees including Akshata Murty, wife of prime minister Rishi Sunak, Michelle Obama and actor Jessica Alba.
The company’s own website brags that its workout sessions “create a space for people from all dimensions of diversity in an environment that is accepting, inclusive and free of hate”.
But Ogbonna says SoulCycle’s actions have been far from accepting and inclusive.
Because she is blind, with only limited vision, the studio had granted her a 10-minute time slot to book one of the only three bikes that are close enough to the instructor to allow her to follow the instructions.
Most of the sessions are so popular that without this reasonable adjustment, she would be stuck too far from the instructor to follow the moves.
But last month SoulCycle suddenly informed her that the adjustment would end, on 1 February, apologising for the change and describing it as an “inconvenience”.
When she questioned the move, she was told she could have five “credits” every month that would allow her to book a slot ahead of the usual time, but only if she used the company’s mobile phone app.
But the app is not accessible to her on her phone, and she often wants to attend more than five classes a month.
The company originally offered to set up a meeting with her to discuss her concerns, and told her: “We want to ensure we are providing a reasonable accommodation that works for both parties, per UK disability laws.”
But it then cancelled the meeting without an explanation.
Disability News Service (DNS) has seen an email thread in which a New York-based SoulCycle manager told Ogbonna: “Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a meeting at this time.”
The manager suggested that some classes were less popular and so Ogbonna would find it easier to book the bike she wanted for those sessions, while pointing out that she had used the app on several occasions in the past.
She added: “For these reasons we will continue with our recent accommodation stated below of 5 SoulEarly classes at the beginning of every month.
“You may also call at any open business hour time during the booking window and we will do our best to book you on the preferred bike.
“Thank you for understanding and have a good evening.”
In a letter of complaint to SoulCycle, Ogbonna wrote: “I am making a complaint as I feel this is the only way to deal with the dismissive and discriminatory way I have been treated.”
She told DNS this week: “Their whole messaging is about inclusivity. It’s literally in their code of conduct.
“They say their compromise of offering me five times a month to book a bike I can see from is a reasonable adjustment, but it’s not.
“I just don’t understand how they can preach such inclusivity and act in a way so contradictory.
“When I told them about the Equality Act, I had hoped that would be enough for them to apologise and do the right thing.”
When asked how it could justify its apparent discriminatory treatment of a disabled customer, why it cancelled the meeting with Ogbonna, and what action it planned to take to put this right, a SoulCycle spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to making appropriate accommodations to our riders and have worked toward providing that for this rider.
“We are continuing to provide credits to unlock complimentary pre-booking for this rider, and anyone unable to use the app is able to reserve classes by calling the studio.”
When informed that DNS had seen the email exchange that showed SoulCycle had told Ogbonna she would have to use the inaccessible app, had restricted her to five early bookings a month, and had told her she would otherwise have to call during the normal booking window, the company failed to comment further.
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