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    June 2012

    New Requirements on Pool Accessibility

    New federal requirements mandate that campus swimming pools and whirlpools have sloped entries or fixed pool lifts to allow access for disabled individuals. Large pools with more than 300 feet of pool wall will need two accessible entry points, with numerous potential options for the secondary entry point. These requirements apply to pools operated by a government entity or open to the public, including all pools at schools or colleges. Although the compliance deadline was March 15, 2012, for new or altered pools, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently extended the deadline for existing pools to Jan. 31, 2013.


    The DOJ issued the regulations as part of the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design and has twice extended the compliance deadline for existing pools. The DOJ is trying to balance the interests of disability rights advocates and opponents of the regulations, such as the hotel industry, which contends that the cost of compliance may cause some hotels to close their pools.

    A fixed chair lift typically costs $3,500 to $6,500, but installation can cost as much as the chair based on pool layout and access to electrical lines. The hotel industry unsuccessfully lobbied DOJ to allow portable chair lifts, which are less expensive to install and can provide access to multiple facilities such as a whirlpool, wading pool, and regular pool. In a small concession, the DOJ will allow use of portable lifts purchased before March 15, 2012, as long as the portable lift is next to the facility and operational when the facility is open to the public. The DOJ has rejected the hotel industry's contention that children jumping from fixed chair lifts will increase liability risks and insurance costs. The hotel industry is taking the fight to Congress, but the bills it supports have attracted few sponsors so far.

    What Steps Should an Institution Take?

    The DOJ has the right to issue fines up to $55,000 for pools that do not meet the requirements—currently estimated at 235,000 to 310,000 pools, according to an association of pool professionals. Also, the rush to comply prior to the last deadline extension created backlogs at many chair lift manufacturers. UE recommends that members take the following steps:

    • Find expertise. Locate an architect or attorney who understands the pool accessibility rules.
    • Assess the situation. The DOJ requires full compliance only if it is “readily achievable,” depending on factors such as cost and the pool owner’s financial resources.
    • Develop a plan to achieve compliance. Although the DOJ says it will be flexible on a case-by-case basis, it has also stated that it is looking for pool owners to develop a long-term plan to achieve full compliance. The DOJ will accept interim measures such as portable chair lifts if a long-term plan is in place.
    • Notify the public. Post the institution’s plan to comply, including any interim steps, on your website. Provide contact information on the website and train lifeguards to answer questions they are likely to receive onsite.


    DOJ: Accessible Pools Means of Entry and Exit
    DOJ: Questions and Answers: Accessibility Requirements for Existing Swimming Pools at Hotels and Other Public Accommodations
    The DOJ’s ADA toll-free number for technical assistance: (800) 514-0301


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