Feature Article - November 2005
Find a printable version here


Handy Solutions to Common Problems

By Stacy St. Clair, Jenny E. Beeh and Kelli Anderson

How To Make Pools and Spas More Accessible

Imagine never dipping into a cool pool on a hot summer day. Or never being able to soothe your aching muscles in a bubbling spa. Or telling your child he can't join his friends at the local waterpark.

For 37 million Americans, these scenarios can be an everyday reality. An estimated 19 percent of the population—nearly one out of every five people—has a disability.

In July 2004, the U.S. Access Board finalized Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for pool and spa accessibility. These guidelines not only provide a legal framework to ensure public and commercial facilities are compliant, but more importantly, they create recreation opportunities for a historically underserved segment of the population.


In keeping with these guidelines, all pools must have either a sloped entry or an ADA-compliant pool lift. Sloped entries, however, often create more problems for disabled patrons than they resolve. As wheelchair users roll themselves into the water, they must push both their own body weight and the weight resistance created by the water. They also must abandon their chair in the water if they want to swim. If you do select a sloped entrance, be sure to provide water-proof wheelchairs for patrons because many of today's electric models cannot be used in pools.

Your best bet for improving access is a pool lift. When selecting a lift, be sure it meets all ADA criteria by having features such as a 16-inch-wide seat, a footrest and unassisted operation capabilities. The seat, which should be able to transfer users weighing up to 300 pounds, must be able to stop between 16 and 19 inches above the pool deck and submerge patrons at least 18 inches below the water surface.


When purchasing an ADA-compliant lift, there are more than just legal guidelines to consider. If you don't have a significant number of patrons with special needs, a portable lift may be the best option for your facility. It can be stored easily, therefore allowing more deck space. It's also ideal for aquatic centers with multiple water locations such as a pool and a spa.

With the many pool styles in the marketplace, some facilities have wide or unusual gutter configurations. It is imperative to determine that your lift will be able to operate correctly for your application.

You also should consider how easy it is to operate and what power source will be used with lift.


Once your patrons can get into the pool, make sure they can enjoy the area around it as well. Site furnishings and other accessories like wheelchair-accessible tables make a facility more universally functional and enjoyable. All surfaces around the facility—including the parking lot and sidewalks that lead up to it—should be smooth and easy for patrons to move across. Inspect your concession area, souvenir stand and lockers. Could you easily access these features if you were in a wheelchair or had another special need? If the answer is no, you have some work to do.


Sometimes, being accessible just isn't enough. In addition to making your facility usable for all patrons, you have to ensure everyone knows about your services. Increase outreach to persons with disabilities by using alternative forms of communications rather than just printed text. Use radio and television publicity to reach a wider audience. Publicize aquatic programs and services through organizations that work with people with disabilities. Expand the accessibility information section on your facility's Web site.

  F O R   M O R E   I N F O R M A T I O N  

RMT Aquatics 800-577-4424

Back to HOW-TO GUIDE Table of Contents