Follow the Rules
A Regulatory Update
By Rick Dandes
Mandates enacted by Congress to open up jobs, as well as access to public accommodations and transportation to the disabled, have been on the books since the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But it wasn't until recently that swimming pools and recreational facilities came under ADA scrutiny.
In 2010, the Department of Justice published updated ADA regulations that, for the first time, contained specific accessibility requirements for a number of types of recreational facilities, including swimming pools, wading pools and spas. Then, two years after that, DOJ again revised ADA, explained Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO of the nonprofit National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) based in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Now," he explained, "ADA would apply to all public swimming pools, hotels, motels, health clubs, recreation centers, public country clubs and businesses." It also would apply to community pools associated with private residential communities if the pool is made available to the public for rental or use.
The 2010 Standards require that newly constructed or altered swimming pools, wading pools and spas have an accessible way for people with disabilities to enter and exit the pool. For existing swimming pools built before the effective date of the new rule, the 2010 standards provide the guide for achieving accessibility.
The 2010 standards, for example, explained that large pools with 300 linear feet of pool wall or more must have two accessible means of entry and exit. One must be a fixed pool lift or sloped entry; the other entry can be a transfer wall, transfer system or pool stairs. Small pools (pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall) must provide at least one accessible means of entry and exit, which must be either a fixed pool lift or a sloped entry.
All that is well and good, said Lachocki, "but with implementation of the ADA, we are sometimes too focused on just accessibility. The intent of the ADA law and philosophy is much broader. The goal is to help more people live healthier and happier lives through aquatic activity. Healthier and happier living should not exclude those with disabilities."
So many aquatic facilities are "in the red" financially, Lachocki continued. Thus, aquatic facilities management should be evolving a broad spectrum of aquatic programs for children to seniors including learn-to-swim, swim teams, exercise programs and therapy.
"As the facility improves accessibility," he explained, "we should be adapting all our programming and further training staff to serve those with disabilities. When the facilities and staff are prepared, we should promote the programs through organizations that serve those with disabilities so we can attract more people, create value for them, and thus, earn revenue to make the facility more financially sustainable. After all, access is just the first step to having more people benefiting from aquatic activity."
The challenge associated with expanding programming to those with disabilities is that there are a spectrum of disabilities and, thus, numerous options on how best to accommodate those with disabilities into current programs.
To help assist facility management, Lachocki said, the NSPF will be making all prior World Aquatic Health Conference seminars available for free. "Facility management should focus on seminars in the 'health benefit' tracks since they often address specific disabilities," he said.
The Aquatic Training & Rehab Institute (ATRI) and the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) also have training programs available to help better serve those with disabilities. To view prior World Aquatic Health Conference seminars, visit nspf.org/en/Conference.aspx.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act
A lesser known but equally important federal regulation, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, regulates submerged suction outlet fittings—main drain covers, fasteners and sumps—which must be tested and certified. The law takes its name from Virginia Graeme Baker, a 7-year-old girl who drowned in 2002 after she was trapped under water by the powerful suction from a hot tub drain.
"The pools I see are generally in compliance because they are high-profile public pools at hotels and parks," said Steve Barnes, safety and compliance manager for a manufacturer of aquatic equipment, including VGB-compliant drains and covers. "Apartments, homeowner associations and condo pools continue to be a concern, especially in areas of the country without strong local government oversight."
There is a possible compliance issue relating to the age of VGB-compliant covers, which are required to include a life expectancy in years shown on the cover, added M. Troy McGinty and Mike Huppert, both product managers with a commercial pool manufacturer in Rockville, Md. Many suction outlet fitting covers have a five-year lifespan, with some shorter and some longer; next summer is the five-year mark since most pools went through the initial upgrade process, meaning these covers are due to expire.
Damaged covers with cracked or broken ribs visible from the surface of the water present another issue. Less frequently seen are improperly installed VGB covers with rusting screws, missing screws and even screws in the wrong place.
In all cases these issues need to be addressed for the facility to be in compliance, Barnes said.