After a six-year wait, the Americans with Disabilities Act swimming pool guidelines have become the law of the land. Aquatics facilities now have 18 months to comply with the new law or seek an unlikely exclusion.

In a July ceremony marking the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has issued final regulations revising sections of the ADA.

The final regulations include revisions to Title II (pertaining to the more than 80,000 states and local governments, public entities and public transportation) and Title III (which covers the more than 7,000,000 nonprofits, businesses open to the public, and public accommodations and commercial facilities). It also includes adoption of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, which establishes final formally codified accessibility requirements for pools.

Generally, final rules will become effective six months after the date on which they appear in the Federal Register (expected this month). Compliance with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design will be required 18 months after the date of publication.

This means pools are now required to meet accessibility standards. But legislatively speaking, “with respect to swimming pools there really aren’t any changes,” said John Caden, director of pool lifts at S.R. Smith, and founder of Rehamed International, which became part of Canby, Ore.-based S.R. Smith in 2009. Caden is also a former member of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ commercial council and an expert who has provided input in ADA development.

The requirements for pools stated in the 2010 standards were first published as guidelines in 2004. Specifically, all pools larger than 300 linear feet of pool wall perimeter need at least two accessible means of entry, one of which needs to be either a pool lift or a sloped entry. The secondary means of entry can be either a lift or sloped entry, or pool access stairs, transfer system, or transfer wall. Pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall perimeter need one accessible means of entry, either a pool lift or sloped entry. Spas need one entry, which can be either a pool lift, transfer system or a transfer wall.

Technical requirements, for example, exactly what constitutes a “sloped entry” have also been adopted in whole by the Department of Justice.

“It’s been a long anticipated release but most proactive pool operators and aquatic facility designers have been using the guidelines for a while,” added John N. McGovern, J.D., president of Recreation Accessibility Consultants LLC. This firm advises public agencies and private agencies with recreation environments on how to comply with the access and inclusion components of the ADA.

However, both McGovern and Caden agree a number of pools will still have to make changes to come into compliance.

“Last week I saw two relatively new pools that would have failed,” said McGovern, who is based in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Pools that are not in compliance could face fines, lawsuits, and/or complaints filed against them with the Department of Justice, according to Caden.

Facilities can be excluded from the law if they prove it would significantly alter their historic nature, reasonable accommodations are not readily achievable or it would create undue financial hardship. But the DOJ has warned that it would be difficult to prove such a case.