The Swim Is Near

Justice Department Sets New Deadline for Public Pools to Comply With New ADA Guidelines

Pool liftIf you’re still waiting for your community pool to become accessible, hope is on the horizon. The Justice Department says existing public swimming pools must comply with the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design by Jan. 31, 2013.

Unfortunately, the news comes after the original compliance deadline and a 60-day extension have come and gone. When announcing the first extension in March, the Justice Department also allowed 15 days for comments. After reviewing those comments, the department decided a further extension was necessary to provide pool owners time for compliance and to respond to some misunderstandings about the requirements.

Overview of the ADA Requirements

According to Liz Waters, marketing manager for Aquatic Access Inc., a Louisville, Ky.–based manufacturer of pool lifts, the guidelines essentially provide people with physical disabilities a means to access most pools, including larger pools.

“The primary means of access required is either a fixed pool lift or a sloped entry,” Waters explains.

The ADA standards require that pools larger than 300 linear feet have two accessible means of entry, with at least one being a pool lift or a sloped entry. Smaller pools are required to have only one accessible means of entry.

The revised ruling also provides guidance on multiple spas provided in a cluster, wave pools, lazy rivers, sand bottom pools and pools that have only one point of entry.

The Amputee Coalition, based in Knoxville, Tenn., said in a news release that the new ADA guidelines require existing facilities to remove accessibility barriers to the extent it is “readily achievable,” meaning easy to accomplish without much difficulty or expense.

But the wording of these guidelines has caused mass confusion throughout the nation as pool owners scrambled to figure out if they must install permanent lifts or add cheaper portable lifts.

Pool owners who purchased portable lifts prior to March 15 will be allowed to use those lifts to meet the requirements as long as the lifts are operational and kept near the pool whenever the pool is open for guests. Most other pools will be required to install permanent lifts.

State and local governments must ensure that their programs, services and activities as a whole are accessible.

Troubled Economic Waters

Waters believes that many pool owners would have complied with the guidelines earlier had the U.S. economy not been rocky.

In addition to economic woes, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007 forced pool owners to absorb the unexpected expense of a mandatory pool drain. The new drains help prevent drowning, drain entrapment and hair entanglements.

“That expense in a time when all businesses are struggling to make ends meet in a faltering economy certainly made the minor expense of adding a pool lift seem insurmountable to many,” Waters said. “The extended deadline provides a bit more time for facilities to analyze their pools, determine the best improvements for their particular pool situation and to begin to make those improvements. With that in mind, the delay is understandable.”

However, Waters acknowledges that the delay is “a bitter disappointment” for individuals and families who will have to wait longer to access public pools.

Equality for All

The revised ADA guidelines were originally announced on July 26, 2010—the 20th anniversary of the ADA—by President Barack Obama. The purpose of the revisions is to ensure people with disabilities the same access to the same locations as those without disabilities.

“Individuals with disabilities will be able to get in and out of any public pool they visit in order to benefit from aquatic exercise and enjoy the water,” said Waters. “This will provide the opportunity for YMCAs and community pools to offer programs that include individuals with disabilities and to develop programs for a wider range of people.”

And it isn’t just people who use wheelchairs who will be happy that pools are accessible.

“There are many, many individuals who have difficulty with the ladders and stairs in pools who would benefit greatly from easier access to the water,” Waters said.

In the near future, the Justice Department plans to release a technical assistance document that will assist pool owners with the requirements.

Click here to read the Justice Department’s ruling release on May 24.

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at