The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990. The law was divided into five subparts but for the swimming pool and spa industry the relevant sections are Public Entities and Public transportation (Title II) and Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities (Title III).
The original enforcement guidelines did not provide accessibility standards for swimming pools and spas. However, in 2004, the Department of Justice issued enforcement guidelines that included pools and spas. At that point they were just that—guidelines—and not law.
In July 2010, the Department of Justice announced its final rule making. The revised regulations were then published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2010 and are now in effect.
What follows are a few key summary points for aquatic facilities and waterparks:
- The swimming pool, wading pool, and spa guidelines that are part of the ADA law are virtually the same for both Public Entities (Title II) and Public Accommodations (Title III) facilities.
- These guidelines stipulate that any swimming pool with under 300 linear feet of pool wall must provide one means of access, and that means must be either a pool lift or a sloped entry. In addition, any pool that has over 300 linear feet of pool wall must provide two means of access, which can be any of the five designated means of access: pool lifts, sloped entries, transfer walls, transfer system, or accessible pool stairs.
- The criteria that each of these means of access must meet can be found in chapter 10, section 1009 of the revised ADA guidelines. Wading pools must have one means of entry and that must be a sloped entry. Spas, both in-ground and portable, also must have one means of entry, which can be either a lift, transfer wall or transfer system. The specific requirements that swimming pools, wading pools and spas must meet can be found in chapter 2, section 242 of the revised ADA guidelines.
- Run-out pools for waterslides are not covered by these new ADA regulations.
There are some exceptions from the accessibility guidelines.
Title II facilities can be excluded if they can prove that modifications would significantly alter the historic nature of the building. They could also be excused if they could demonstrate that making such modifications would create undue financial hardship for the facility.
Title III facilities can be excluded if they can demonstrate that reasonable accommodations are not readily achievable. However, the Department of Justice has made it clear that, given the flexibility and cost of a pool lift, it would be very difficult for any entity to escape their responsibility to provide access to a swimming pool.
ADA regulations are enforced directly and indirectly. Most direct enforcement is a result of civil lawsuits initiated by a plaintiff who sues for non-compliance. If the plaintiff prevails, the court usually issues a court order that requires the defendant to remedy the violation, and attorney’s fees for the plaintiff. There are generally no monetary awards provided to the victorious plaintiff.
Many states either have adopted or will adopt the latest guidelines into their state or local building codes.
The DOJ recently released a revised compliance brief with information on re-striping park spaces. This compliance brief provides information about the features of accessible car and van park spaces and how many accessible spaces are required when parking facilities are re-striped. Download this document here.
Download the Revised ADA Requirements: Accessible Pools Means of Entry and Exit document.
Download the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design
Download the DOJ’s Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design
Download the DOJ’s Accessible Pools Means of Entry and Exist Overview document
Download an ADA Q&A document with frequently asked questions relating to the ADA and its application in aquatic and waterpark environments
Download an ADA compliance checklist document for existing aquatic facilities
Download an ADA compliance checklist for general areas of compliance under the ADA
Download a guidance document from the U.S. Department of Justice on handling service animals in your facility
Download an FAQ sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice on Service Animals and the ADA