Swimming Pools...Can Everyone Dip In? If not, will your hotel be on the boycott list?
In 2010, the ADA regulations were updated, which, for the first time, contained specific accessibility requirements for a number of types of recreational facilities, including swimming pools, wading pools, and spas. Hotels and motels, health clubs, recreation centers, public country clubs, and other businesses that have swimming pools, wading pools, and spas are required to comply with these requirements.
In response to this delay in enforcement, disability advocates nationwide are urging supporters to avoid booking meetings, conventions or leisure stays at hotels that are non-compliant with DOJ guidelines. Why? Two main reasons:
1. Since the industry got a lot of what it wanted in the final regulation and has had so much time to make the changes, it’s an insult for them to ask for an extension like this; and,
2. Because the disability community itself is a very active user of hotels for a variety of meetings, conferences and seminars, they are using that economic clout to send a strong message to the whole industry that “if you are accessible you will get our business, and if you are not, you will not get our business.”
Specific targets of the boycott include hotels represented among the executive leadership of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), the industry’s largest lobbying association, which include large hoteliers such as Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, which own four hotels in Chicago including the Allegro, Monaco, Burnham and Palomar. Other hotels named included the Fitzpatrick Hotel Group, which own establishments in New York and Ireland, and the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, owners of the Radisson Hotels and Country Inn & Suites brands. In addition to targeting those hotels connected to AHLA leadership, another part of the coalition’s strategy involves calling on supporters to identify and then boycott any hotel they come across that is required, but does fails to, have a fixed lift installed at their pools. Plans are in the works to create a website that will post a list of non-compliant hotels.
The trade association has argued installing fixed lifts would force undue costs upon smaller hotels that would not only have to pay for a lift’s installation, but also maintenance, education of employees and higher insurance premiums. AHLA also contends that a fixed pool lift increases risk of injury due to misuse by children in unattended pools. ADAPT spokesman Bruce Darling said such arguments were reminiscent of the fights groups like his waged in the 1980s over the installation of wheelchair lifts on public buses. “All of the arguments we heard about why we shouldn’t be able to put lifts on public buses are now circling back around and we’re hearing the same thing about lifts in swimming pools,” he added.
I think we can all understand the frustration in delaying access for a population that represents a potentially new customer base. These 54-million-plus customers, along with their families, friends, and colleagues patronize clothing hotels, motels, spas, recreational facilities and more, if the businesses are accessible. This market grows even larger if the 78 million baby boomers in this country – who do not always require but benefit from accessibility – are included. Accessibility makes good business sense: an accessible establishment brings in new customers and keeps them coming back again and again.
The following important points must be kept in mind:
1. In response to public comments, especially from industry trace organizations, the requirements for compliance have been extended to January 31, 2013.
2. There is considerable flexibility of the standards for existing swimming pools. There is no need to provide access to existing pools if doing so is not “readily achievable.” Providing access is not readily achievable if it would involve significant difficulty or expense.
3. The Dept. of Justice will not pursue enforcement of the fixed lift requirements against those who have purchased otherwise-compliant portable lifts before March 15, 2012 as long as they are kept in position for use at the pool and operational during all times that the pool is open to guests.
Furthermore, pool lifts have been commercially available for over 20 years. While the Access Board (the federal agency that drafted the guidelines) recognized that inappropriate use of pool lifts may result in accident or injury, it wasn’t aware of any incidents of injury or accidents involving pool lifts, NOR aware of any evidence that shows that pool lifts are any less safe than other components of a pool facility, such as other means of pool entry, when they are used inappropriately. Manufacturers are also incorporating features which are intended to discourage inappropriate use, such as fold-up seats and covers. If you have questions about your obligations, additional guidance is available at http://www.ada.gov/qa_existingpools_titleIII.htm in an easy-to understand document, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: ACCESSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR EXISTING SWIMMING POOLS AT HOTELS AND OTHER PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.