Cruel Summer: Why Some Kids With Disabilities Can’t Use The Pool

It’s the kind of news that seriously ticks you off when you have a child with special needs, but it’s the kind of news that should perturb anyone with a heart.

By March 15, hotels and city recreation centers with public pools and spas were supposed to install or order permanent lifts, or get pool ramps, to make them accessible to kids and adults with special needs; the lifts allow them to transfer from wheelchairs into the water. This accessibility is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The deadline got extended by two months as the hotel industry and Congressional reps resisted. And now, hotels and places with public pools have until January 31, 2013 to comply.

This means we’re headed into one more summer that countless kids and adults around the country won’t be able to use their local pools. One more summer when parents will struggle to carry their child with disabilities into the pool because there is no other way, or give up and not go at all.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, pool manufacturers say the law applies to about 256,000 pools and spas around the country; only a small percentage, they estimate, are equipped with lifts. Even more mind-boggling is the resistance the accessibility legislation triggered. The American Hotel & Lodging Association urged members to push for a delay in enforcing the ADA at pools. Meanwhile, on March 14 South Carolina Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham introduced a bill to inherently prevent the ADA from being enforced at public pools and spas. On March 16, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) backed a similar bill.

What were they thinking? Well, as DeMint explained it, the enforcement of accessibility “could lead to increased litigation and heavy fines that could force pools to close or raise fees on families.” His proposal: “Pools with public access should have the flexibility to work directly with people with disabilities to accommodate their needs.”

I’d like to see Senator DeMint stand in front of a child with disabilities and tell him that, sorry, he can’t use his local pool because of concerns about lawsuits.

Of course, it’s important that hotels and rec centers get the right accessibility equipment and have a general plan in place before they comply. But how is it even possible there are any places left that haven’t gotten around to doing this, let alone major hotel chains? As for the hotel industry’s concern that permanent lifts could pose a safety hazard to children tempted to play with them, the fact is, pools are generally dangerous places for kids. Which is why you are not supposed to leave them unattended.

Surely hotels could figure out a way to make sure kids don’t use permanent lifts as pool jungle gyms. Surely hotels should get a grip and realize that kids and adults with disabilities deserves fair access to its amenities. Swimming is not a luxury; every child and adult deserves the right to enjoy this summer pleasure.

This spring, my town installed handicap-access ramps in our public pool, including one descending right into it. Progress? Yes. Overdue? Very much so. On July 26 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. Two years ago, the ADA was amended to include pool accessibility. And now we’re here in 2012  and kids and adults with disabilities are still being denied access to pools. For shame.


Photo of father holding his son with disabilities in a pool via Shutterstock

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  1. by Sarah

    On May 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Yay, yet another reason to loathe SC state senators. I wish a feisty, wheelchair-bound 7yo would sue Graham and DeMint and have them tarred and feathered. Haters!

  2. by LMR

    On May 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    It sucks, but they have a point. It will result in more litigation, sadly. Litigation is killing this country.

    What will ultimately happen is that many smaller hotels and rec centers will simply close their pools permanently. I guess at least that would be fair to everyone.

  3. by Heidi

    On May 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    I think that the phrase “kids and adults with disabilities are still being denied access to pools” is a little harsh, no one is telling them that they are not allowed to swim in the pool, it is really a matter of funding and yes, litigation. I think that LMR is correct, when legislation takes effect, many pools will simply be forced to shut down and no one will be able to swim in them. In a down economy funding basic services is hard enough; many community Rec centers are already in danger of closing their doors. Of course people with all abilities SHOULD be able to go swimming, heck, they should all have access to great healthcare, supportive and loving families and communities, affordable education, and two chickens in every pot! But just because it should be so, doesn’t mean that it is feasible. Who exactly are you putting to shame? Policy makers? Rec center staff and volunteers? Hotel owners? Tax payers? Those who frequent local pools? Your righteous indignation needs a clearer target.

  4. by Diana

    On May 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Actually in new jersey swimming in the ocean is a luxury you have to pay for.

  5. by Ellen Seidman

    On May 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Ok, I’ll clarify! The shame is on people who oppose laws entitling people with disabilities to have equal access to pools and other public places. I hope you are never in that situation, Heidi, because it’s an awful place to be.

  6. by Helen Schubert

    On May 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Earlier this spring I was searching for a personal flotation device that would be appropriate for my daughter. We do not have to deal with a wheelchair, but she has incredibly low tone and no fear when it comes to water. I asked for advice from people on the facebook support pages I belong to, and found out that many of them cannot take their children to the pool because the public pools in their town forbid ANY type of pfd, and were unwilling to make an exception for their disabled child. I haven’t found out yet if our public pools take this stance, they open this weekend.

  7. by greg casarella

    On May 24, 2012 at 11:20 am

    i think that the people that think this stuff up dont look be fore thay say anything first these politcal people are upseard.

  8. by Kathryn

    On May 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    that is stupid the ADA was passed 22 years ago yet everything does not follow it. sad i feel bad for those people :(

  9. by Around the Web… |

    On May 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    [...] Why kids with disabilities can’t always use public pools – [...]

  10. by SMiaVS

    On May 31, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Unfortunately, I’m betting a lot of hotels are fighting the law because accessibility could potentially make their luxury pools less aesthetically pleasing. Sad, but people are shallow, and I’m guessing that plays a factor, too.

  11. by Cary

    On June 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    With so many cities being in big financial trouble these days forcing them to comply will probably mean no one will get to use the pool. Not everything is equal and fair in life that is just how life is. In my school district they have laid off so many teachers that my sons class has 35 students while the school district pays for three aids to help with a boy with severe disabilities. He gets a lot of help and tutoring that the other kids do not get. Would I change that? No I would not but please don’t shut down a community pool just because not everyone can enjoy it. It would be like me saying that because my school district can’t afford to give all students extra helpers and tutoring no one should get it.

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  13. [...] tired of hearing people like Olson talk about the high cost of adapting technology, buildings, pools, whatever to people with disabilities. Let’s forget, for a second, that this is the law. [...]

  14. by

    On December 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    This particular post Cruel Summer: Why Some Kids With Disabilities Can