American Elephants

The Department of Justice Wants to Shut Down Your Swimming Pool. by The Elephant's Child

The heavy hand of Big Government has descended upon swimming pools. The Justice Department has deemed to regulate all pools in the mindless effort to be “fair” — this time to the disabled, to make sure they have access, even to those things to which they have no wish to have access. The DOJ says this will cost $ 1 billion over each of the next 15 years. Here’s Heritage’s brief description.

The new rules require (for the first time) that swimming pools, wading pools, and spas—some 300,000 of them—be made “accessible” for the disabled. But the folks who actually own the pools have no say in how to comply. On the contrary, the government dictates every detail (e.g., “A transfer space of 60 inches minimum by 60 inches minimum with a slope not steeper than 1:48 shall be provided at the base of the transfer platform surface and shall be centered along a 24 inch minimum side of the transfer platform.”)

These regulations were published on September 15, 2010, after a rulemaking that stretched six years. Shortly thereafter, manufacturers began furious production of the various components needed to retrofit pools. Hotels and the like were racing to meet the compliance deadline despite lacking clarity on key elements of the regulation.

The regulators clearly have no comprehension of the nature of swimming pools.  Your typical municipal pool serves many purposes. Swim lessons for kids, and for all ages. Competition swimming for swim teams, competition diving. Lap swimming for swimmers who want exercise. Water exercise classes. Red Cross safety swimming lessons from beginner through life saving. Water ballet. All that before you get down to ordinary swimming which involves exercise, play, cooling off, teaching babies to swim.

The city where I live in the Pacific Northwest has a population of just over 122,000, lots of parks, nestled between two lakes. It has one indoor city swimming pool that serves multiple populations, including all of the above. It is usually crowded, busy, and heavily chlorinated. The times that you can use it depend on your particular need.

A number of years ago, a group of citizens who had disabled members requested facilities for the disabled. The building housing the pool was enlarged to accommodate another pool, and a special pool was built with gentle ramps. The pool is shallow, probably 4 feet in the deep part, with good  hand rails. The water is kept at a warmer temperature than the active pool. Cost was high with the new building. redesigned facilities and redesigned parking lot.

The city also has a YMCA, a number of private swim clubs, and in recent years a proliferation of health clubs, many of which have pools for members. There is some pressure on the city to build another city pool, as the existing one is really too busy.

Even the pool specially built for the disabled serves many purposes: there’s a baby swim class for mothers and babies, and a water movement class, aside from whatever classes they have for the disabled. It is a nice pool, and well designed for its uses. The rules would require the city to retrofit the other pool, unused by the disabled.

The disabled can move more easily in warm water, and can move in ways that they cannot outside the pool. Regular use is therapeutic. What they do not need is to be in a crowded swimming pool with all sorts of swimmers and splashers. My grandmother was badly crippled with arthritis, but could swim (slowly with a gentle side stroke of sorts) in warm water and it was very beneficial.

Some 120 regulations taking effect in the past year require enhanced accommodations for disabled individuals at 65 different types of public and private facilities—encompassing 7 million privately owned sites and 80,000 units of state and local government—including stadiums; convention centers; auditoriums; airport terminals; public parking facilities; theaters and concert halls; jails; prisons; bowling alleys; fishing piers; amusement parks; hotels, motels, and spas; restaurants; stores; health care clinics; and office buildings (to name a few).

Pools were required to be in compliance by March 12, 2012. But the DOJ came up with another rule about how lifts were to be attached to pool decks that meant that many pools that had retrofitted had to do it over, so they got a 60 day extension.

There are hot spring pools throughout the Rocky Mountain West that are were open to the public. Retrofitting as the DOJ demands is probably more than they can afford.There are several books available listing hot springs in the West with pictures and facilities described. The vast majority will probably have to shut down. The vast majority have probably never had a disabled customer — because they are not “disabled accessible” or because there is no interest? I don’t know the answer to that.

I do know that the kind of facilities that truly serve the needs of a disabled person require more than a lift. They require a little intelligence from the rulemakers. and some understanding of the nature of swimming pools. One rule for all may be “fair” from the view of the rulemakers, and devastating to the people.


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