As federal officials grapple with a deadline extension — and new legislation — that could change the rules regarding swimming pools and Americans with Disability Act requirements, other issues are further complicating the road to compliance. Manufacturers are backlogged on orders for compliant equipment, and it appears that there is still some confusion among the state and local officials charged with inspecting aquatics facilities.
At least two operators are reporting at least a two month turn around in orders for ADA compliant lifts and some experts estimate that at the current rate of production it could take years for all pools to become compliant.
“We’re about eight weeks out on our production,” said Bruce Giffin, national sales manager, Aqua Creek Products.
There are number of reasons for the delay. ADA compliant accessibility equipment is not a huge commodity and there are not many firms that produce it; perhaps as few as three, noted John McGovern, president of Recreation Accessibility Consultants, LLC, in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Moreover, few operations planned to place an order well in advance, although the original deadline was announced a year ago.
“Human nature played a role,” said Margaret McGrath, vice president of marketing, S.R. Smith. “Despite being aware of the original March 15, 2012 deadline, many people waited until the last minute to order products. I can confirm that those who purchased lifts in 2011 had shorter lead times than those that waited until 2012.”
When the U.S. Department of Justice released its Technical Assistance Document regarding ADA compliance in January — effectively requiring fixed lifts — some operators decided to switch gears, which created further delays in placing orders, McGrath added.
The good news is, for those operators who have purchased portable lift and are not sure what to do now, there may be options that will allow then to convert their equipment to a permanent option, if necessary. Retrofit kits are available from several manufacturers, said McGovern.
Retrofit kits may be one way to avoid lawsuits or questions from inspectors. However, it appears some state and local inspectors may have more questions than answers when it comes to ADA. Accessibility comes under different jurisdictions in different states, from health departments to building, or licensing and regulations agencies.
“Much confusion still exists,” said Tracynda Davis, environmental health program director at the National Swimming Pool Foundation.
In working with a group of operators recently, McGovern said he saw first-hand an example of the confusion. He learned that they had received a memo from their state officials requiring all pool licensees to inform authorities as to whether compliance was “readily achievable.” According to the DOJ ADA guidelines, the phrase “readily achievable” only applies to Title III facilities (including hotels, motels nonprofits, swim clubs and other such facilities). All Title II (municipal) facilities are required to establish “program accessibility,” meaning that “all programs, services, and activities, when viewed in their entirety, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities unless doing so results in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the program or in an undue financial and administrative burden.”
Ultimately the federal government is responsible for ADA enforcement, but state inspectors are impacted on a variety of levels, most notably when coming into compliance means altering something within the pool that may conflict with other state rules.
In Oregon, one issue that has come up is how to address ADA compliance when installing a fixed pool lift blocks required access around the pool deck for emergency equipment, said Stephen Keifer, public pool specialist, Oregon Health Authority.
In New York, Doug Sackett said his agency has gotten a lot of questions and officials have gotten educated on ADA requirements. Still, they refer inquiries to other authorities.
“I think it’s a potential disservice for us to try to interpret it,” added the assistant director of the New York State Health Department and director of the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC).