Guest Column - May 2009
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Equal Access

A Look at ADA Rules Governing Pools

By John Caden

Their logic is that if one pool within a city is accessible, the entire city's program is considered to be accessible. Can you imagine the outcry if this logic was applied to Sally's situation?

This example discusses only one of the changes to ADA/ABA 2004 proposed by the Department of Justice. But all of the changes, especially the provision that exempts existing pools under 300 linear feet in size from the need to provide accessibility, will result in fewer accessible pools. Fewer accessible pools creates de facto segregation.

By proposing these changes in the first place, the Department of Justice seems to have lost its focus with respect to the stated goals of the ADA. In 1992, the DOJ wrote the following clarification of section 35.130 of the ADA Law that enumerates General Provisions against Discrimination:

Taken together, these provisions are intended to prohibit exclusion and segregation of individuals with disabilities and the denial of equal opportunities enjoyed by others...Integration is fundamental to the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Provision of segregated accommodations and services relegates persons with disabilities to second-class status.

The Department of Justice should be more interested in finding ways to provide universal accessibility, rather than proposing stipulations that create loopholes that allow discrimination to persist.

So, where are we today? Following the release of the proposed rules in June 2008, the DOJ opened a period of public comment that ended in mid-August. Originally, it had been hoped that the Department would sort through the comments and a final ruling would be released during the Bush administration. Unfortunately, this did not happen. On Jan. 21, 2009, at the direction of President Obama's Chief of Staff, all proposed rules have been put on hold until appointees of the new administration can review them.

If pool operators are waiting for a government mandate to make their pools accessible, they are, once again, left hanging. However, these operators could also consider both the civil rights implications of accessibility, along with the fact that 50 million disabled Americans have over $200 billion in discretionary income. These two facts make a good case for not waiting to become accessible. Both Tom and Sally should be able to swim together in that pool across the street.


John Caden is the founder and president of RehaMed International, a worldwide leader in providing access to swimming facilities. For more information, visit