Pool Accessibility – Few Testing the Waters, Even if They Can

Accessibility finally came to Bouws pool in Holland this summer but failed to make a splash.

Nobody with physical limitations has asked to use the mobile machine with an electric arm lower them into the public pool.

And, sadly, the lift would not have worked well if anybody had.

The problem is a 2-inch tall and 12-inch wide concrete lip that surrounds the outdoor pool. The accessibility lift can’t get close enough to the water for the arm to lower a person into the water.

“We could get the thing close enough to the water to use it by removing a section of the lip,” said Mark Waterstone, who’s managing the pool for a second season. “That’s what we’re planning do before next season.”

Heavy equipment will be needed to cut the concrete, so concerns for public safety prevent scheduling the project during the summer, when the pool is heavily used, Waterstone said.

Of course, that means people with physical disabilities -- who have never been able to access this public pool -- can’t for yet another summer.

The federal government announced in 2010 that it intended to require existing public pools, including hotel pools and spas, to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Final deadline to add a sloped entry or lift was Jan. 31, 2013.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 did not address existing public pools, although some public and hotel pools have removed barriers since 1992, when the ADA went into effect.

Travelers with disabilities heralded the new law, saying they’d finally have access to an amenity for which they’ve always been paying.

The hotel industry lobbied for an extension to implement the changes, but by 2013 most were compliant.

Cost of the lifts vary from $1,000 to $6,000 according to pool configuration, whether the lift is permanent or portable, and operating features.

The Amway Hotel Corporation – which owns the Amway Grand Plaza, the JW Marriott, and Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids – installed permanent chair-like lifts for the pools and hot tubs at its properties 2012.

Each of these lifts cost about $4,000. Nick Garlock, who manages the fitness facilities at the Amway Grand Plaza, says he understands how difficult it was small hotels to absorb the cost. Some mom-and-pop properties complained they’d have to fill in their pools and hot tubs because they couldn’t afford to add lifts, but Garlock says he doesn’t know whether any actually did.

“Our lifts at the Amway only get used a couple of times a year,” Garlock said. “Yet, I know of one traveler, who comes to Grand Rapids for an annual conference, who says he chooses to stay with us because of our lift. He uses the hot tub for therapy.”  

Waterstone says he hopes no swimmers have been inconvenienced by the unforeseen problem of situating the lift at Bouws Pool.

Since the lift is new, it’s likely the public doesn’t know about it, although a sign declaring it’s existence is posted at the pool’s welcome gate.

The portable lift is stored out of sight, and probably will be even after the pool modifications are made, Waterstone said.

How important is public pool accessibility to your recreational plans?