Feature Article - January 2013
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Aquatics and Accessibility

Beyond ADA Compliance

By Chris Gelbach

Programming for Disabled Audiences

Once a pool is accessible, it's helpful to let people know by posting signage and advertising it on your website. Taking the next step to provide programming for disabled patrons can involve specific programs for these audiences, as well as accommodations to help them take part in mainstream offerings. "Our philosophy is, if you want to do it, and we don't have it, we will adapt it or find a way to adapt it to try to suit your needs," said the Chicago Park District's Labiak. "If you want to be in mainstream programming and you have a disability, we'll provide the support you need to be able to do that."

When creating special adaptive classes, the Chicago Park District typically pilots the programs at pools that have a zero-depth entry, according to Kristi Miller, senior program and event coordinator for special recreation at the district. A pool with only a portable lift isn't ideal for these classes because getting multiple people into and out of a pool with a lift can simply take too long. For this reason, the district also sometimes outfits its pool locations that have a lot of senior programming with easy-access stairs in addition to a pool lift to help patrons enter and exit the pool more quickly and independently.

When you look at the sheer numbers of people who can benefit from pool accessibility, it's anything but a niche audience.

Because of its size, the Chicago Park District has extensive special recreation programming of its own. But smaller park districts and organizations are more often able to provide programming for disabled customers by pooling resources with other neighboring facilities in the area.

Kenneth Rippetoe, executive director of One With the Water, a nonprofit that offers adaptive swimming instruction throughout the Los Angeles area, sees his organization get a lot of referrals from park districts and other facilities that are financially unable to provide these services themselves.

"The problem is staffing," he said. "You almost have to have one-on-one instruction, and occasionally two-on-one instruction, depending on the person's disability. A lot of it is being right there beside them and saying, hey, you're going to be OK when you try this; nothing's going to happen. And that's something that a lot of facilities aren't able to do if someone just comes to the facility to swim on their own."

Adaptive swimming coaches also have the knowledge to advise people with disabilities on how to swim in a way that compensates for their disability. "We can teach somebody without a leg, or who's paraplegic, how to rebalance their body in the water," said Rippetoe. "We can help them figure out the little tricks that allow them to swim efficiently given their disability."

Rippetoe suggests that facilities go to the U.S. Paralympics website to find some coaches registered in their area, and then do a financial analysis. "Most likely, they'll end up contracting adaptive swim lessons out at first, but as it grows and people become more aware of the opportunities they have with that audience, then hopefully they can eventually start offering classes through their own facility."

He also recommends veterans hospitals and physical therapy clinics as good places to inform people who might be interested in your adaptive programming. And for those with disabled swimmers who want to compete, Rippetoe recommends U.S. Masters Swimming events where they can compete against able-bodied swimmers. It's something he's done on many occasions with his own swimmers because there aren't many Paralympics competition opportunities.

"The able-bodied swim meets for the masters swimmers have no problem bringing forth a ramp for someone to get into the pool if needed. They make all the accommodations necessary," he said. "They're very welcoming and they love it."