New federal requirement makes public pools ADA-accessible
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, disabled people can patronize businesses—including hotels—knowing that they will at least meet basic accessibility requirements. And as of May 21, disabled Americans can now add public pools to the list of places they can count on to be accessible.
An addition to the 2010 version of the act requires all owners of public pools and hot tubs to make them usable by disabled residents. According to a Santa Cruz County Commission on Disabilities press release, “This can involve installing a lift, making a slope or other steps to improve accessibility.”
Some places in Santa Cruz County—including The Dream Inn, Simpkins Family Swim Center and 24 Hour Fitness—have already installed lifts, which range from something resembling an upright hammock to an office chair complete with arm rests.
The lifts had to be installed or at least purchased by owners of pools and hot tubs open to the public by May 21 in order to satisfy the requirement. Other options include installing a sloped entrance to the water, but in many cases this would be more costly and shrink the size of the pool.
With the lift, a disabled person sits down in a chair that the lift pivots over the water and lowers in.
Simpkins, the only publicly owned pool in the county that is regularly open, got out ahead of the game in 2008 to accommodate Dominican Hospital's physical rehabilitation courses for people recovering from strokes and surgeries. Disabled locals have been enjoying the lifts there since then and are happy to hear these changes will be made everywhere soon.
“I go to Simpkins and love the lift,” says Foster Andersen, who is quadrapalegic. Andersen is the founder of Shared Adventures, a local organization that provides disabled people with opportunities to participate in sports and other events. “Without it you can't [get in the water] unless someone picks you up and carries you in, which is almost impossible.”
Simpkins' $8,500 lift, which they purchased in 2008, was covered by funds from a trust given to the Santa Cruz County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces, and cost the county nothing.
The Dream Inn on West Cliff Drive installed chair lifts next to their pool and hot tub during renovations five years ago. General Manager Robin Donovan says that being a hotel with 163 rooms meant that the pool lift was a relatively small purchase, overall.
“We are also putting in a wading pool that will be ADA compliant, so we were lucky and [are] good to go,” Donovan says in regard to the new ADA requirement.
However, Donovan adds that making the change will be more of a challenge for smaller hotels. “I know a lot of smaller hotels are struggling to meet the deadline,” she says.
The original deadline set in the 2010 ADA update was March of this year. However, lobbying by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and large hotel chains earned the industry a two-month extension to decide what they would do.
The largest insurer of hotels in the nation, Petra Risk Solutions, was a leader in the drive to buy more time. Petra's director of risk management, Todd Seiders, told USA Today on March 15 that many of his clients were considering closing their pools if the deadline was not pushed back.
On May 16, the Santa Cruz County Commission on Disabilities issued a warning to public pool owners that reiterated the current May 21 deadline and said, “To avoid being in violation, pool and spa owners must take immediate steps to evaluate and improve disability access.”
Orders have been flying in to pool chair lift manufacturers so quickly that back orders started piling up as early as fall 2011. Some local hotel owners, including Beach Street Inn co-owner Chris Ferrante, now find themselves on these wait lists.
“We purchased the equipment a while ago, but it is on back order because manufacturers are so behind,” she says. “But because we ordered it before the deadline we are not in jeopardy of breaking the law.”
Good Times’ online searches for “ADA pool lifts” found chairs ranging from $800 to $7,000. Including the parts needed to anchor them poolside and installation, the costs of these lifts rose to between $5,000 and $9,000.
The investment forced Ferrante and her partners to carefully weigh spending choices for the year.
“We wanted to put a hot tub next to the pool but the hot tub would need another lift,” says Ferrante. “Then it didn't make financial sense to install a hot tub.”
Despite this decision, she is glad that more people will be able to get the most out of their stays in the future.
Andersen is pleased that hotels are complying, but hopes owners take more into consideration than the price when making their purchases. There are many things disabled people notice when it comes to accessibility that go beyond what business owners may realize. For instance, some lifts don't have armrests, which can be an issue for people who have problems balancing themselves, says Andersen. Seatbelts would also be helpful for disabled patrons, as would seat padding, which is listed in most lift advertisements as an accessory available at an additional cost to the lift itself.
“Some lifts can be very complicated,” says Andersen. “The water-compatible chair [Simpkins' has] would be great if it was padded, and [had] a seat belt.”
Apartment complexes and other residential locations with pools do not have to install the lifts, but they must maintain a clear path to the pool and allow for residents to use machines of their own if they wish to, according to poollifts.com.
All public facilities, including hotels, gyms, and government-owned pools, are required to become ADA compliant to the extent that is “readily achievable.” Businesses are also able to claim half of what they spend making these changes as a tax write off.
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