It was good news for the aquatics industry when the U.S. Department of Justice ruled to allow portable pool lifts this spring, but that turnaround represents only a fraction of the most recent Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Operators have until Jan. 31, 2013, to comply with the ADA pool
accessibility requirements, but many waterpark operators are still
asking what it all means.
With the help of compliance experts and waterpark professionals,
Aquatics International has taken a closer look at some of
the biggest questions regarding the requirements. There are still
some gray areas, but the following should help your waterpark
follow the letter of the law, and observe the spirit of what it was
put in place to achieve.
The ADA specifies that the more elevated components a facility has,
the more ground-level accessible ones it must provide. Here’s
a closer look at the requirements.
|Number of elevated play components provided||Minimum number of ground-level play components required to be an accessible route||Minimum number of different types of ground-level play
components required to be on accessible route|
|1||Not applicable||Not applicable|
|2 to 4||1||1|
|5 to 7||2||2|
|8 to 10||3||3|
|11 to 13||4||3|
|14 to 16||5||3|
|17 to 19||6||3|
|20 to 22||7||4|
|23 to 25||8||4|
|More than 25||8, plus 1 for each additional 3 over 25, or fraction thereof||5|
SOURCE: DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, 2010 ADA STANDARDS FOR ACCESSIBLE DESIGN - TABLE 240.2.1.2 NUMBER AND TYPES OF GROUND-LEVEL PLAY COMPONENTS REQUIRED TO BE ON ACCESSIBLE ROUTES
What are the primary concerns when addressing accessibility in waterparks?
When tackling accessibility in waterparks, “readily
achievable barrier removal” is the buzzword of the day. Many
operators are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of changes they must
make to become 100 percent ADA-compliant, but the good news is that
they aren’t expected to fix every accessibility issue
overnight. New construction must be in line with ADA, but existing
pools and attractions only need to be addressed if the resources
are available, which is determined on a case-by-case basis. If it
can be accomplished without undue difficulty or major cost, the
barrier removal is considered “readily
However, the “readily achievable” concept isn’t a
free pass to forget about noncompliant areas of your waterpark.
“Any type of barrier removal is an ongoing responsibility,
and what’s not readily achievable today may be different
tomorrow,” says John Caden, accessibility specialist at
S.R. Smith in Canby, Ore. For example, a waterpark may have a major renovation
planned, but can’t begin for another year. Its operators have
already complied with ADA where readily achievable, but other areas
of the park that could not be made immediately accessible must be
addressed once the renovation project begins.
To determine what is and is not readily achievable, experts
recommend teaming with a consulting firm to conduct a
barrier-removal analysis. These experts can identify the areas of
your park that can be made ADA-compliant most easily, and create a
plan for further accessibility down the line.
Also, as you adapt your waterpark to the latest ADA standards, keep
one more thing in mind: inclusion. Beyond following the letter of
the law, an operator’s main goal should be to ensure as many
patrons as possible can enjoy as much of the park as possible.
“People come to waterparks as part of social groups and the
members of those groups want to be able to enjoy the
waterpark . . . and not be segregated or excluded from the
fun,” York says.
Do waterparks fall under Title II or Title III
Waterparks qualify under either Title II or Title III, depending on
the ownership status.
Title II pertains to anything owned by a state or local government,
which would include municipally owned waterparks. Private
facilities, such as those owned by Six Flags Entertainment or
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, are Title III.
Under the ADA, the focus for Title II entities is program
accessibility. “For existing facilities, each service,
program or activity, when viewed in its entirety, must be readily
accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities,”
says Sherril York, executive director of the National Center on
Accessibility in Bloomington, Ind. For example, that means that
if a city offers swim lessons, it must have at least one facility
that can accommodate swim lessons for individuals who use wheel chairs.
Conversely, where readily achievable, Title III facilities must
remove physical and communication barriers to individual
attractions, goods, services and activities.
Which rules/requirements are different between Title II and III?
“The main difference is that Title II entities do not necessarily have to make each of their existing facilities accessible, as program accessibility can be achieved in a number of
ways,” York says. If disabled patrons can access programs
offered by Title II facilities by some other means, such entities
don't need to remove barriers, even where readily achievable.
“It is important here to acknowledge that Title II and Title
III are really more alike than different,” says John
McGovern, president of Recreation Accessibility Consultants, LLC, in Hoffman
Estates, Ill. His firm helps states and local governments (as well
as private entities open to the public) comply with ADA. The goal
for Title II and III facilities, he says, is to “eliminate
discrimination on the basis of disability [by imposing] specific
requirements and prohibiting certain activity.”
What are the rules for water slides and catch pools?
ADA does not mandate access to the top of a water slide, but an
accessible route to the catch or plunge pool at the bottom is
required. No entry into the catch pool is necessary, however.
“By having access to the catch pool, people with disabilities
can be close to the play action, which may be important for
parents, siblings or friends of those playing on the water
slides,” York says.
Additionally, diving boards and platforms themselves are exempt
from ADA, but there must be an accessible path to the base of these
“Part of the rationale [for exempting water slides] is that
the rider needs to be able to maintain a specific body position to
enjoy the ride safely,” says Franceen Gonzales, vice
president of risk management at Great Wolf Resorts in Madison, Wis. “For
a person who does not have the use of their lower extremities, it
is difficult to enjoy a water slide safety.”
Does a wave pool or lazy river need two accessible means of entry?
For specialty pools such as lazy rivers and wave pools where there
is only one means of entry for able-bodied patrons, only one
accessible means of entry for disabled users is required. This is
the case even if the body of water measures more than 300 linear feet.
This has been a source of debate, though, because some lazy rivers
have more than one entry point. Wave pools nearly always have just
one access point because of safety concerns, but lazy rivers often
are designed with various launching spots. In such cases,
“some might argue that there is only one way for the disabled
to enter the pool,” Gonzales says. “Some of our lazy
rivers have multiple means of entry, so we provided pool stairs and
lifts for the longer ones.”
Ultimately, it’s best to err on the side of inclusion where
In areas where there is no legal requirement for accessibility, what can a waterpark operator do to comply with the spirit of ADA?
Your staff is a valuable resource when it comes to accessibility.
Provide training on the ADA rules that apply to waterparks and
empower employees to make decisions using that knowledge when
working with disabled patrons, Gonzales says. If a person in a
wheelchair must wait at every attraction for the employee to call
his or her supervisor and formulate an access plan, that patron can
feel like a burden or that their time is being wasted.
“There are a lot of disabilities out there,” Gonzales
adds. “Have a plan for each one, like hearing or visual
impairment. Also, for example, seeing kids with autism-spectrum
disorders in our parks has become so much more prevalent. How can
we make the experience best for them?”
Are service animals allowed into the pool?
“Service animals must be allowed to the pool or water’s
edge, but not necessarily into the pool,” says York, who
recently spoke to a former Department of Justice representative
about this topic.
Most experts suggest referring to your local health department to
make sure other rules don’t require service-animal access,
“Most facilities are certainly not allowing them in the pool
itself,” Caden says, citing maintenance and safety issues.
How many play elements need to be accessible?
Where play elements are provided at ground level, at least one of
each type of element must be on an accessible route. However, most
waterparks also have elevated play components and, according to ADA
requirements, the more elevated components a facility has, the more
accessible ones it must provide.
The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design includes a table that
specifies the number and types of ground-level play components
required to be on accessible routes.
Keep in mind, some elements present a bit of a gray area.
“There’s no scoping for play elements like splashpads
and all that stuff, so technically they should all be accessible to
the point that it’s readily achievable,” Caden says.
Do I need a lift at every pool? What are the other options?
The size of each pool determines which means of pool entry and exit
can be used. Pools that measure 300 linear feet or more must have
two accessible means of entry. The primary means can be either a
pool lift or sloped entry. For the second entry point, acceptable
methods include another lift or sloped entry, transfer walls, a transfer system or stairs.
“The secondary means cannot be used in place of the primary
means of entry because not everybody can use every secondary
means,” Caden says.
Pools measuring less than 300 linear feet have different requirements, and the permitted means of entry is either a lift or sloped entry. Wading pools must have a sloped entry (as long as is
extends to the deepest part of the pool), while wave pools can use
a lift, transfer system or sloped entry.
What about kiddie pools without a zero-depth entry where a lift won’t
“The characteristics of a ‘kiddie’ pool must be
considered,” York says. “Typically, kiddie pools are
small and have 12- to 18-inch depths, which do not meet the
requirements for the installation of a pool lift or the water depth
requirements of a sloped entry — 24 to 30 inches.”
If the depth of your kiddie pool does require accessible entry, you
can either use a portable ramp or re-slope the entire vessel.
However, portable ramps may not be ideal in these pools because of
all the children running around. Many experts advise against them.
Additionally, there are some situations where re-sloping is simply
too expensive or not feasible, such as when the length of a ramp
would be longer than the pool itself. In those cases, the
“readily achievable” guideline would likely apply.
“In these cases, have a plan in place for the next
remodel,” Gonzales says. “Show the public that you are
planning to do something when it can be done.”
In what other ways does ADA cover waterparks?
As operators scramble to comply with the new ADA requirements, they
may forget that past ADA rules still apply to the rest of their
waterparks. Parking lots, ticket kiosks, locker rooms, toilet
areas, food service, concessions, pay phones and everything else
detailed in the entirety of ADA must be accessible to your patrons,
along with pools and other attractions.
Are handrails required on both sides in sloped entries?
In a word, yes. Handrails are required at the top landing but not
at the bottom of the entry, and the width between rails must be
greater than 33 inches and less than 38 inches.
“Wave-action pools, leisure rivers and sand-bottom pools do
not have to comply with clear width requirements,” York says.
There are other exceptions, according to Caden: Sloped entries in
wading pools do not require handrails, and handrails also could be
a safety hazard in kiddie pools where children are running around.
Can a pool lift be shared between two pools?
According to the 2010 standards regarding new pool or spa
construction, each vessel must have its own accessible entry and
exit, so sharing lifts would not be permitted. In existing pools,
whether each should have its own lift depends again on whether it
is readily achievable. Ultimately, each pool should have its own
lift eventually, as soon as it becomes possible for the facility to install one.
“This is one of the areas that’s a moving
target,” Caden says. He expects further clarification on this
topic from the DOJ in the future.
Though a shared lift may be allowed, keep in mind the possible
problems that may pose for disabled users. “Sharing a lift
between two pools requires people with disabilities to rely on
staff assistance to find, move and set up the lift each time they
want to enter or exit the pool,” York says. “Also, this
may create a safety risk to swimmers with disabilities, as they may
be unable to exit the pool when desired or necessary.”
Which pools are “grandfathered in”?
Technically, no pools are “grandfathered in.” The 2010
ADA standards do have a Safe Harbor provision, which states that
elements which comply with ADA 1991 standards do not need to be
modified to meet ADA 2010 unless they have been altered on or after
March 15, 2012. But because ADA requirements relating to pools did
not exist in 1991, Safe Harbor does not apply.
“If any requirements changed between 1991 and 2010, and the
facility did a barrier-removal study and complied as best they
could, then they do not have to change anything for 2010 until they
do a renovation,” Caden adds.