For the nearly 20 percent of the population with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act removed architectural and social barriers that had prevented them from enjoying the same privileges of living in the United States as able-bodied citizens.
But for owners and managers of facilities, ADA has meant facing a
host of challenges in interpretation and implementation.
Architects, designers and engineers have had to re-shape their
visions and begin to embrace a new concept called "universal
With the looming March 15 compliance deadline, aquatics
professionals of all stripes no longer have a choice. They must
address ADA barriers, or risk lawsuits.
Indeed, this legislation has spawned a new type of disability
advocate: the professional plaintiff. Armed with tape measures,
inclinometers and a set of ADA regulations, this group has promoted
a barrier-free society through instigating litigation and lodging
Last year, the Department of Justice published a revision to the
original ADA regulations. This revision addressed a number of
facilities that were omitted from the 1991 regulations, including
Here’s what you need to know to meet the requirements of this
legislation — and avoid legal entanglement.
First off, be proactive. Assuming you understand the requirements
of the 2010 revision to ADA regulations, begin an implementation
strategy. Any new construction project or any facility undergoing
modifications must fully comply with the 2010 regulations.
For existing pools, those measuring more than 300 perimeter feet
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 measuring less than 300
perimeter feet 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.
For existing facilities, the starting point is the barrier removal
analysis. This process includes the following items:
• Determining if the facility falls under ADA jurisdiction
(Publicly operated pools — those in city parks, public
schools and the like — fall under the jurisdiction of the
Department of Justice and must comply, along with privately owned
public accommodations such as hotels and motels. Apartment and
condominium complexes — and some private clubs — are
usually exempt from ADA regulations.)
• Auditing each body of water
• Reviewing existing means of access
Once the barrier removal analysis is complete, you are ready to
develop an implementation plan.
The implementation plan is the most important component in
preparing to create an accessible environment for your aquatics
facility. This exercise will not only help you make the required
barrier removal modifications according to your terms, but it also
will shield you against any punitive remedies in the event you
inadvertently overlook something. The plan of action should
• Results of your barrier removal analysis
• Modifications you will perform
• Outline of any additional staff training
• Timetable for executing your plan
Each barrier removal issue should be reviewed to determine if that
modification is readily achievable. That is the standard to which
existing facilities are required to comply. Readily achievable
means able to be accomplished without much difficulty or
What is and is not readily achievable is subjective and is
considered on a case by case basis. The decision on whether or not
a modification is readily achievable is the responsibility of the
owner of the facility.
Your plan should describe any new policies or procedures that will
be initiated as part of your accessibility program. These
procedures can include a revised check-in policy for swimmers
entering your pool, or instructions for setting up a pool lift and
providing any assistance to swimmers using the lift.
It is essential that all of these activities be thoroughly
documented in a written format and kept on file within your
facility. This is NOT a requirement, but it is an easy way to show
that your facility has been proactive in addressing barrier removal
responsibilities under the ADA regulations. Having this activity
documented will greatly reduce any possible exposure to punitive
action in the event you ever encounter a complaint regarding your
The next step is putting the plan into action by acquiring the
means of access you have selected. Whatever means of access you
decide to purchase, be sure that it results in a facility that
meets the guidelines.
Compliance is a combination of an access means that meets the
requirements plus an installation that also meets the requirements.
A product that meets the requirements may not always result in a
compliant installation if it is not properly installed.
Once your equipment is ordered and installed, it is vitally
important that your staff is trained to operate it.
It makes a lot of sense to review all of your barrier removal
modifications with your staff. Let them know the steps your
facility has taken to create an accessible environment and the
reasons for doing so.
Carefully review any revised policies and procedures to ensure that
your staff understands and follows them.
It never hurts to also provide some sensitivity training so that
your staff is comfortable working with people with
Let us hope that 20 years from now when the next revision to the
Americans with Disabilities Act is released, accessible swimming
pools will be just as commonplace as curb cuts and accessible
parking spaces are today.