As with any kind of building regulation, those familiar with the pool/spa requirements now part of the ADA have already run into tough spots, wrestling with seeming contradictions they believe may actually compromise those with physical impairments.
For example, the law states that sloped entries must terminate in no more than 2½ feet of water, but that doesn't mean designers are limited to 30-inch-deep ramps.
“Most states won’t allow you to build a non-therapy pool shallower than 3 feet, or in some states 3½ or even 4 feet deep,” says aquatic therapy expert Andrea Salzman, owner of the Aquatic Resource Network in Plymouth, Minn. “The shallower the water is, the higher the incidents of catastrophic injury with a head-first [fall].”
However, when installing a deeper ramp, designers must include a landing where the water is 2½ to 3 feet
deep, ostensibly to accommodate wheelchairs. To an adult sitting in a chair, 3½-foot-deep water will come up to about the chest. However, most people with impairments are ambulatory but unsteady, Salzman says. One of the reasons they use a pool is that the buoyancy helps them get around unassisted. But 2½-foot-deep water only provides about 50 percent buoyancy.
Others worry about the 300-pound requirement for pool-lift seats, and the maximum allowed distance of 24 inches between handrails on stairs. With obesity becoming a bigger epidemic, they believe the seats should be able to hold more weight, and that more space should be provided between handrails.
The ADA does acknowledge higher load tolerances may be better. Finally, professionals are concerned about the clause stating that sloped entries don’t have to be slip-resistant. People using this kind of entry may very well have their balance compromised, and in such shallow water, some believe the lack of a slip-resistant surface can be dangerous and may lead to an accident.