Feature Article - January 2013
Find a printable version here

Aquatics and Accessibility

Beyond ADA Compliance

By Chris Gelbach

In 2010, the Department of Justice published updated regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that for the first time addressed accessibility requirements for aquatic recreational facilities, such as swimming pools, wading pools and hot tubs. For recreation managers, the extended compliance date for existing pools of Jan. 31, 2013, is fast approaching.

To be compliant, state and local governments (considered Title II facilities under the ADA) must make their recreational programs and services, including swimming pool programs, accessible to people with disabilities. And public accommodations, such as hotels, resorts and swim clubs (Title III facilities,) must remove physical barriers in existing pools to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so.

The original ADA guidelines, now more than 20 years old, already addressed accessibility from the parking lot to the edge of the pool. "The only thing that changed in 2010 with the revision is that facilities now have to be concerned with getting people into the water," said John Caden, accessibility specialist for a Canby, Ore.-based manufacturer of swimming pool equipment, including pool lifts.

Caden noted that a barrier-removal analysis is required for Title II facilities and recommended for Title III facilities. This involves making an analysis of each body of water in your facility, looking at the regulations for those types and sizes of pools, and determining whether your existing means of access comply.

According to Caden, if you're not in compliance, you then need to ask yourself two questions. "If it's an existing pool, what's the least expensive way to do this that serves the most number of people? And if it's a new construction, how can I accomplish this and also make it look really slick?"

Swimming pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall must provide at least one accessible means of entry, either a pool lift or a sloped entry. Pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall must have two accessible entry means, one of which must be a pool lift or a sloped entry. For the secondary means of entry, a transfer wall, transfer system or easy-access pool stairs are also acceptable options.

Doug Anderson, partner for the architecture and accessibility consulting firm LCM Architects, suggested that facilities have a plan in place by the Jan. 31 deadline, even if they can't get their pool up to code by that date. "Because this deadline was pushed back, there's been a lot of anticipation, and there will probably be a lot of attention paid to this by disability groups," he said. "You want a plan you can show people if they ask—either that you've ordered a lift or that you're planning to do a sloped entry."

The updated guidelines also include separate requirements for specific pool types. For example, wave-action pools, leisure rivers, sand bottom pools and other pools where user access is limited to one area are required to provide one accessible means of entry, and catch pools aren't required to provide an accessible means of entry if the pool edge is on an accessible route. The requirements for wading pools, spas, hot tubs and saunas, as well as other aquatic structures, such as fishing piers and recreational boating facilities, are all spelled out in the 2010 Standards document available at www.ada.gov.

Compliance with these regulations is important, and noncompliance can put facilities at risk for a fine or lawsuit. But Anderson stressed that they remain just one element of the overall barrier-removal plan—and not necessarily the most important one for facilities still not ADA-compliant in other areas.

"They just need to be considered when facilities are deciding to spend money on accessibility-related work," he said. "For example, if there's still a major accessibility issue at the front entrance of the facility, that should still be addressed before they get to the pool requirements."