Aquatic Accessibility

By Susan Langlois

According to the American Journal of Public Health, an estimated 54 million people in the United States were living with a disability in 2005. Considering the average lifespan of both the able and disabled is climbing, it is reasonable to assume that number is even larger now. Perhaps more importantly, these 54-plus million people are taking advantage of improved technologies to lead a significantly more active lifestyle.


This active lifestyle goes to the heart of camping. So, its no surprise many camps have found their aquatic facilities and programs are ideally suited to providing low-impact exercise opportunities attractive both populations. Doctors and therapists across the country are finding that the ease of movement associated with aquatic exercise and fitness routines builds their patients’ strength and confidence, which helps to ward off depression, heart disease and diabetes, and works towards helping them live more independent lives.

Understand The Local Regulatory Environment
Of course, before you can meet this demand, your aquatic facility needs to be accessible. This is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. A good place to start is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that newly constructed and altered facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities. ADA access standards exist for swimming pools, wading pools and spas (you can view requirements online at, as well as local building codes and standards.

These various codes (local, state and federal) are really only a starting point. To determine what accessibility product or renovation will truly meet your needs, you need to stop and consider the demographics of your clientele (who are you trying to serve?). What other amenities will need to be improved/updated (lockers and restrooms, concessions, first aid, etc.)? How easy is the new equipment to use, how will the new device impact your existing pool environment, and does it need to be stored when it is not being used?

Other Considerations

Ease Of Use—An Example
The use of temporary transfer steps to provide access to your pool may be the perfect solution to your problem. Or, it may not.

Depending on your particular setup, the following hypothetical issues may turn a great solution into a big problem:

•The temporary transfer steps you purchased require multiple employees to install, move and store, which means the equipment is not used very much.

•The cost of installing and uninstalling the transfer steps ends up causing a rift in your regular budget meetings.

•Employees are not properly trained on how to install the transfer steps, and they repeatedly do it incorrectly, causing undue wear and tear on the equipment.

•The device is not stored properly (or no storage space is available, so it is kept on the pool deck), creating a hazard for other patrons.

•Your campers feel self-conscious using the transfer steps, and you worry they are creating undue work for your staff.

Of course, it can go the other way. If the temporary transfer steps are supported by a quality manufacturer who provides adequate instructions and training for installation, removal and storage, the steps may fit the bill nicely. Take the time to determine how you can safely, courteously and professionally provide access to your pool environment. The correct solution is easy for your staff to implement, it doesn’t create another issue, and it is dignified for the user.

Impact On The Pool Environment
This is an especially important consideration when researching permanent accommodations for access. Permanent lifts, ramps, stairs, zero-depth entry systems and transfer walls will present limitations to what types of activities your pool can support. Because these structures are permanent, they will take away space you may currently use for competition swimming or training programs. If they are a recent addition, they can also present short-term hazards for people who are not aware the pool environment has changed.

Again, your clientele will determine the most logical course for you to follow. For example, if a person cannot walk, only a lift will be perceived as a viable access accommodation. For others, a ramp may be a better solution.

Lifts that meet ADA guidelines typically start in the $4,000 range, as do transfer steps. Portable ramps can be purchased for as little as $3,000, but the costs are higher depending on the depth and dimensions of the pool. Zero-depth entry, permanent ramps and stairs, movable floors and transfer walls are all usually more expensive and will vary with the type of pool construction and how they impact the amount of square footage needed for all programming requirements.

Installation, storage and maintenance costs vary greatly depending on whether you are buying a permanent or temporary device. As a general rule, permanent devices are typically more expensive initially, although this cost is usually rolled into the cost of construction/renovation. Portable devices will typically have more stand-alone maintenance, storage and replacement costs.

Customer Service
Good customer service is certainly appreciated by all of your customers, and providing access to people with disabilities is no different. It requires the same positive, “can do” attitude you express to your other campers. If your camp is working to become more accessible, you should consider providing disability awareness and sensitivity training to your new employees as well as reinforcing that message with your veterans each year.

Employees should be advocates for inclusion and be knowledgeable about adapting activities and the operation of equipment that provides access. Your brochures should work in this same vein, showing photos and information about the services you offer for campers with disabilities.

Dr. Susan Langlois has over 25 years experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sports facilities consultant. She is currently a professor of sport management at Springfield College School of Human Services in Stratham, NH. She can be reached via e-mail at