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Supplement Feature - February 2012

Roll With the Changes

What Aquatic Facility Managers Need to Know About ADA, VGB and More

By Rick Dandes


Even the most experienced aquatic facility owners and pool operators sometimes find it hard to stay on top of new ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) guidelines, confusing VGB (Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act) mandates and the ongoing requirements to certify and properly train lifeguards.

On July 26, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice released updated ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The law took affect March 15, 2011, with compliance required by March 15, 2012.

Among the updates—which apply to a number of facility types—were new requirements specifically for public swimming pools, explained John Caden, the director of pool lifts for a Canby, Oregon-based manufacturer of swimming pool equipment, including accessibility equipment.

The 2010 regulation defined permitted means of entry to a pool: a primary entry—pool lifts and sloped entries—and a secondary entry, transfer walls, transfer systems and accessible pool stairs. The only means of entry that can be used on its own without any other means of entry is a sloped ramp.

"Swimming pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall must have at least one primary means of entry, handicap lift or sloped entry," Caden said, citing the regulations. Swimming pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall must have two means of entry, and at least one of them must be primary. The primary means of entry must be either a sloped entry or a pool lift capable of being independently operated by a person with a disability. The secondary means of entry can include a pool lift, sloped entry, transfer wall, transfer system or pool stairs.

"The first thing aquatic facility managers need to do, if you want to see if your pool is in compliance with the new directives is to go through a barrier removal analysis," Caden said. That is, analyze the facility and determine if you are subject to ADA regulations; if you are, what types of pools do you have on site and what kinds of compliance will be required by those pools?

"If you already have an existing means of access," Caden noted, "make sure they comply with the regulations spelled out in the ADA rules." Under the regulations, there are nine different criteria for pool lengths.

One example of the complexity of the new rule involves lifts. Years ago, Caden recalled, facilities bought manual hand-cranked lifts. "They were fairly inexpensive, about $1,000, whereas most pool lifts are $3,000 to $5,000," he said. "But the problem is that this kind of lift doesn't meet the new guidelines, because one of the requirements is that lifts have to be capable of self-operation. If you have one of those manual types it needs to be upgraded."

Once the barrier removal analysis is completed you need to determine which of those barrier removal requirements are do-able, Caden said. "Because existing facilities must comply with ADA regulations to the extent that the compliance is readily achievable. And that means, able to be accomplished without much difficulty to your bottom line."