Written by Mackenzie Saunders:
Swimming in a pool is a fun recreational activity that many people take for granted. Because of conditions such as spinal cord injuries, not everyone can enjoy the pool in the same way. For people with spinal cord injuries and other mobility disabilities, getting in and out of the pool safely can be nearly impossible without proper assistance. Luckily, pool lifts are now a requirement in most public pools and saunas under the Americans with Disabilities Act and providing greater access for those with restricted mobility to get in and out of a pool. Pool lifts are opening up a whole new part of life to those with disabilities, including those with spinal cord injuries: the chance to participate in pool-related activities with family, friends, and loved ones.
Pool lifts have many benefits, one of which is how pool lifts can increase the independence of people with disabilities. Pool lifts are designed to be operated without assistance, although assistance in a public space can typically be provided upon request. Giving people with disabilities the opportunity to operate their own pool lift and control how they get themselves into and out of the pool can create a sense of independence. This means that people with disabilities do not have to rely on caretakers or loved ones to assist them in and out of the pool. Giving people with disabilities access to operate the pool lift on their own means that people with disabilities can go to a pool on their own, if they would like, and enjoy the water. Giving people with SCIs and other mobility disabilities an independent way to experience public recreation can mean the world to someone who typically relies on assistance from others in public or recreational activities.
Pool lifts can also increase the overall quality of life of people with disabilities. Swimming in a pool is a fun way to spend time with your family, friends, and loved ones. Being able to get into the pool with your loved ones makes for a far better recreational experience than observing from the side of the pool, unable to participate due to the lack of accessibility Pool lifts thus give people with disabilities more opportunities for both fun and relaxation, which can increase overall levels of happiness and pleasure.
Pool lifts are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in which the government states that pool lifts are required in all newly constructed and altered business or public facilities that have swimming pools. The term “newly constructed” applies to businesses and public facilities with swimming pools that were built or reconstructed after March 15, 2012. This means that all businesses and public facilities that constructed or altered their swimming pools since March 15th, 2012 are required to have a pool lift present and available for use. The pool lift must be kept in position at the pool and ready for use during all hours in which the pool is operational and open to the public.
The ADA requires businesses and public facilities to make existing pools (or pools built before March 15th, 2012) accessible only when it is ‘readily achievable’ for them to do so. The term “readily achievable” means that “providing access [should be] easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.” If a business or public facility with a pool built before March 15th, 2012 would incur much difficulty purchasing and acquiring a pool lift, they are not legally required to provide a lift. Although the ADA lays out a step-by-step plan for existing businesses/facilities to follow in order to someday meet the accessibility standards when doing so is readily achievable, existing pool structures may not have pool lifts because pool lifts are not required of the business or facility to provide immediately.
The first step to take when there is no pool lift in a pool that is open to the public is to talk to the manager or supervisor of the pool or structure. This can be done at the site or over the phone. While speaking to the manager or supervisor, you can ask why a pool lift is not readily available to the public, and stress how a pool lift would greatly help you and other people with disabilities who visit that location. Voicing your desire for a pool lift to a member of management may expedite the process of the business or facility acquiring a pool lift.
Another step you can take is filing a complaint through the ADA. Depending on when the pool in question was built or altered, the business or facility may be violating the ADA by not having a fixed, readily available pool lift. First, visit www.ADA.gov/complaint. The complaint form is a one-page form in which you need to list your contact information, along with the date, address, and description of the incident. You will write the date in which you visited the pool, the address of the business or public facility, and a description stating that there was no pool lift available for use at the pool in question. After submitting the form, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will reach out to you to continue correspondence; they will also conduct research on when the pool in question was built and determine if any ADA codes are being violated. Ultimately, the Department of Justice will issue a fine and require the business or facility to acquire a pool lift, if ADA code is being violated. If ADA code is not being violated, the Department of Justice may develop a step-by-step plan as to how the business or public facility can make their pool accessible in the future when it is readily achievable for them to do so.
Pool lifts can serve as a catalyst to independence and a greater quality of life for people with disabilities. If you are at a pool that is open to the public and there is no pool lift, please consider speaking to a manager or filing a formal complaint through www.ADA.gov/complaint.