In 1990, just two years after the birth of Aquatics International, the federal government passed the sweeping Americans With Disabilities Act, prohibiting discrimination based on certain physical or developmental limitations. The legislation went far beyond the ubiquitous handicapped parking and had profound effects on accessibility.
The law spelled out specific requirements for aquatics facilities, too, forever changing not only the way facilities were designed, but also who they were designed for.
Overall, the law stated that pool patrons of all abilities should be able to move between the locker/changing areas, restrooms, pool deck and water. ?Since 1992 facility design must meet with the requirements for accessibility in parking, entryways and routes, bathrooms, concessions, and general spaces of public accommodations,? notes adaptive physical eductation expert Dr. Monica Lepore, a professor at Westchester University and co-author of the book Adapted Aquatics Programming: A Professional Guide. ?Since 2004 there have been more established guidelines, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines published by the Access Board (www.access-board.gov).?
The U.S. Access Board accessibility guidelines, currently under review by the Department of Justice, stipulate that pools larger than 300 linear feet need at least two accessible means of entries; spas need one. Primary forms of entry must be either a lift or sloped entry. These guidelines apply to new pool projects. Existing facilities can use any of the approved means of entry to make reasonable accommodations. At that point, it will be up to the states to enforce the standards.
Following its review, the DOJ will need to adopt the guidelines as the ?enforceable standard? and establish an effective date to make them accepted law.
?Overall, ADA has simplified the ability [for special populations] to use the pool,? says Ruth Sova, founder of the Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute. ?It?s opened the pools for everybody.?
Sova notes that as a result, aquatic therapy has become more widely accessible. It was always easy to do adaptive aquatics with kids, she adds, but because simply entering the water was such a challenge, many adult patients could not do it or did not want to do through the hassle.
Many experts say perhaps the biggest challenge with coming into compliance with the ADA has been accepting the spirit of the legislation.
?[Some] 10 or 15 years ago, people were really just paying lip service to accessibility,? says Randy Mendioroz, founding principal of Aquatic Design Group in Carlsbad, Calif. He notes that lawsuits and ADA attorneys have likely forced many people to change their attitudes.
Lepore notes that the change in attitude should be reflected in employee training. ?Attitude adjustment of the staff for customer service now should include in-service on the needs of people with physical, behavioral, communication, cognitive, and sensory differences. The facility is not the only thing that must be made accessible; the programs must also be.?
Today, there is a noticeable ?universal design? movement. ?When designers are designing aquatics facilities, they?re thinking beyond just average able-bodied persons,? says John Caden, president/founder of RehaMed International.
Mendioroz agrees: ?Now we?re getting more people asking for accessible sprayparks.?