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The U.S. Department of Justice has extended the deadline to next January to comply with new accessibility rules for swimming pools.
(Published May 31, 2012)
Cities now have more time to comply with new accessibility standards for existing city swimming pools. The effective date is now Jan. 31, 2013. However, newly constructed or altered pools must be in compliance with the new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements as of March 15, 2012.
The effective date for all city pools to meet the new requirements was initially March 15 and was then delayed to May 21. Another delay was announced last week.
By next January, under the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, there must be specific accessible ways to enter city swimming pools. The Standards apply to wading pools and spas too, but many of those already have compliant sloped entries.
The ADA aims to establish a comprehensive prohibition of discrimination based on disability. For cities, it’s not just about physical access. Title II of the ADA applies to state and local governments and requires that people with disabilities also have access to public programs, not just buildings.
For example, if a city offers swimming lessons at a community pool, a child who uses a wheelchair must be able to participate in that program. Because of this program access, many smaller public pools may already have installed an accessible entry, making the pools compliant with the 2010 Standards. However, if a city must modify pools to make their programs accessible, the 2010 Standards are the new reference point.
The “accessible means of entry” required by the 2010 Standards means pools must have pool lifts, pool stairs, or sloped entries, and either a transfer wall or a transfer system. (A transfer wall is a wall along an accessible route that allows a person to leave a wheelchair, for example, and lift or move their bodies onto the wall and then into a pool.) The Standards require a different number of accessible entries based on the size of the pool.
The 2010 Standards require that larger pools—those with 300 or more linear feet of pool wall—have at least two accessible means of entry. At least one entry must be a sloped entry or a pool lift; the other could be a sloped entry, pool lift, transfer wall, or transfer system. Smaller pools, with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall, must have one accessible entry.
There are only a few exceptions to the new requirements. If a public entity can demonstrate that it is structurally impracticable to meet the standard for new pools, then full compliance is not required.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, adaptations are “structurally impracticable” only in those rare circumstances when the unique characteristics of terrain prevent the incorporation of accessibility features. Even then, achieving compliance is required to the extent possible.
Another exception relates to cost and mostly applies to existing pools. If a city demonstrates that making existing swimming pools accessible would be an undue financial and administrative burden, the exception protects the city from excessive compliance costs. Deciding what constitutes an undue financial and administrative burden is a city-specific question requiring legal advice from the city attorney.
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