New ADA Aquatic Regulations

Making commercial swimming pools more accessible to the public achieves a two-fold purpose: complying with the new standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and accommodating a more diverse clientele.

“Providing a greater level of just good business,” says Bill Botten, an accessibility specialist with the U.S. Access Board in Washington, D.C.

“Unfortunately, some recreational facilities are struggling to understand the new ADA requirements.”

The revised ADA Standards for Accessible Design--adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in September 2010--require commercial pools to have at least one primary means of access, which could be either a pool lift or a sloped entry.

The law, which went into effect on March 15, 2011, applies to both public and private facilities, including:

• Parks and recreation districts

• Schools and universities

• Municipalities

• Cities and counties

• Hotels and lodgings

• Hospitals and healthcare facilities

• Fitness and sports clubs

• Water parks

The DOJ notes that compliance is not required until March 15, 2012.

The website also states, “If elements in existing facilities already comply with corresponding elements in the 1991 standards and are not being altered, then Title II entities are not required to make changes to those elements to bring them into compliance with the 2010 standards.”

Public and government facilities that fall into the “Title II” category include parks and recreation districts; public schools and universities; and municipalities, cities, and counties.

Botten says there are important steps that facilities should be taking now in order to comply.

“They should conduct a thorough review of their existing spaces, and possibly bring in a consultant to do a compliance review to determine where the barriers are,” he suggests.

“The review will determine what the facility’s obligations are over time because the guidelines are only a minimum, and sometimes that’s not enough to meet the needs of customers.”

For those who are in the process of designing a new facility or conducting renovations, Botten says it is important to entrust the work to companies that understand the ADA requirements.

He also recommends forming a community-based focus group from a broad cross-section of individuals--including those with impairments--who can provide valuable input on creating a user-friendly facility.

Open The Door

According to the new law, pools with less than 300 linear feet must have one primary means of access. Those with more than 300 linear feet require two accessible points, one of which must be a primary means--such as a lift or sloped entry.

Pool stairs, transfer walls, and transfer systems are considered a secondary means of access and can be used when there is already a primary means in place.

“One pitfall commercial facilities could face is thinking they don’t need to comply. Some facilities simply see this as an added expense when really it is a door-opener,” says Tracy Corens, director of marketing for Spectrum Aquatics in Mendota Heights, Minn.

“Having a compliant pool will expand their ability to offer services to a wider clientele base, and attract new customers who may not have used the facility before the pool lift was added.”

Corens notes there are many companies that have invested a considerable amount of time ensuring they understand the new standards and are prepared to help. Such companies can be a valuable resource in assisting facilities to install a pool lift or sloped entry that meets the specific requirements based on the size and design of the pool, as well as the facility’s budget.

Tips For Compliance

Tim Patterson, sales and operations manager at Patterson Pools in Columbus, Ohio, says most of his clients are aware of the new requirements and are taking the appropriate action to comply. His company works with commercial entities, including municipalities, swim clubs, country clubs, and rehabilitation facilities.

“The best tips I can offer in terms of what facilities should do is contact a trusted pool contractor and also visit the [DOJ] website,” says Patterson.

Kevin Maher, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the American Hotel & Lodging Association in Washington, D.C., says the organization is working to make sure its members understand the changes.

The AH&LA has hosted a series of webinars, drafted advisories for members, written articles for various publications, spoken at numerous meetings and conferences, answered questions from members, posted resources online, and is working on a compliance guide for the industry.

“Properties may wish to consider working with a local disability consultant or organization that can make recommendations on improving the traveler’s experience,” says Maher.

“While compliance with the ADA is required by federal law, hoteliers should also adopt the attitude that greater accessibility will encourage more individuals with disabilities to stay at their property. Travelers with disabilities often travel with one or more companions, and can be very loyal to a property that makes accessible design a priority.”

While Patterson notes his clients have spent between $5,000 and $20,000 to make their pools compliant, Maher says it is difficult to make a cost-benefit analysis of a law that is a civil right.

“The AH&LA’s primary concern is that our members understand what the changes mean to their properties, what their legal obligations entail, and how they can work toward compliance,” he adds.

“Many of these changes can be quite costly, and properties need to start planning now for any changes they may need to make.”

The Access Board began reviewing the ADA Standards for Accessible Design in 1994, and presented its recommendations to the DOJ in 2004. As an independent federal agency, the board is dedicated to promoting accessibility for people with disabilities.

For more information, visit the DOJ website at . To speak with a representative to answer questions, call (800) 514-0301.

Tracy Carbasho is an award-winning journalist whose latest book, Nike, was released in late 2010. She has written for newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. She can be reached via email at