Aquatics: Access For All

A Work in Progress


Twenty-three years after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an expansion of that law addressing accessibility for aquatic facilities went in effect on Jan. 31, 2013. Originally slated to go into effect in March 2012, the compliance deadline was moved to May 2012 after questions were raised by the hospitality industry about portable lifts. In May 2012, the Department of Justice provided their final guidance on pool access and pushed the compliance deadline to January 2013.

Although many facilities have embraced the need for accessibility, there are many public aquatic facilities that are still not in compliance with this law.


Let's review the requirements. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) stipulate that any pool with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall must provide at least one means of access, and that method must be either a pool lift or a sloped entry. A pool that has more than 300 linear feet of pool wall must provide two means of access, one of which must be either a pool lift or a sloped entry. The second means of access for large pools can be any of five designated means: pool lifts, sloped entries, transfer walls, transfer systems or accessible pool stairs. ADA guidelines require a means of access for every body of water—swimming pools as well as spas, wading pools and lazy rivers.

Pool lifts are commonly selected as the primary means of access because they are the most flexible and least expensive means of access. They also require only slight modifications to the pool deck, depending on the type of pool lift selected. Both fixed-portable and anchored pool lifts can be removed and stored away at times when they may interfere with an activity such as a swim meet or water polo competition.

It is essential to make sure that the features of a particular pool lift are compatible with your pool's design (gutter configuration, etc.) before selecting the brand and model that works best for your facility. ADA-compliant pool lifts must be capable of independent operation and be located where the water level is no deeper than 48 inches, and must have a lifting capacity of at least 300 pounds. Pool lift seats must be a minimum of 16 inches wide and must be positioned at least 16 inches above the pool deck to facilitate transfers. Additionally, the lift must submerge the top of the seat a minimum of 18 inches below the water level and be equipped with foot rests. ADA guidelines are very specific regarding the amount of clear deck space required around the lift to facilitate transfers. Do your research to ensure you select an ADA-compliant pool lift that meets all the necessary requirements.

Making sure your pool lift is operational at all times that the pool is open to the general public is another ADA requirement. Pool lifts are machines that require more attention than most other pool deck equipment. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's product manual for specific maintenance suggestions. Keeping an extra charged battery on hand is always a good idea. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's warranty provision and develop a maintenance plan and stick to it!


Today, the good news is that a majority of aquatic facilities have done the right thing and now provide accessible swimming pools. However, there are still many facilities that have not complied with the law, despite being subject to ADA requirements. Pool owners and operators are obligated to do so or face fines or lawsuits.

Fulfilling this obligation benefits everybody. As our society ages, the need for safe and accessible swimming pools also increases. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes access to swimming pools, helps ensure that every American is able to enjoy the benefits of getting into the water. Water offers everyone, especially those with mobility challenges, a safe and comfortable way to exercise.

The bottom line is that access to aquatic activity helps everyone live healthier lives. If you have not already done so, please join this work in progress and provide an accessible aquatic facility.



John Caden is a swimming pool accessibility expert and consultant to S.R. Smith. For more information about aquatic accessibility requirements, visit