Executive Summary

This project was conducted for the U.S. Architecture and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to identify and evaluate methods and standards related to enabling access to swimming pools by people with disabilities. It focused on the appropriateness, independent use, degree of consistency with existing building standards, level of safety, and impact on pool design.

With the assistance of a national advisory panel, four principal activities were undertaken: a comprehensive review of literature; a national telephone survey of people with disabilities; a national telephone survey of swimming pool operators, managers, aquatic directors, and adaptive aquatic instructors; and actual pool testing of identified designs and devices by people with disabilities.

A comprehensive review of the literature was organized into four areas. The first area was a review of the published literature of the past 35 years. Seven means of pool access were identified: ramps, lifts, stairs, transfer steps, lifts, zero depth entry, movable floors, and transfer walls. The second area reviewed was the state building codes related to swimming pools. Relevant standards from each state code were presented in table format. The third area examined was the existing standards for public swimming pools and spas, ANSI/NSPI-1 1991 and ANSI/NSPI-2 1992. Finally, the fourth area analyzed the report of the Recreation Access Advisory Committee (1994). The recommendations of each of the sub-committee reports that dealt with swimming pools, sports facilities, places of amusement, and developed outdoor recreation areas, were analyzed separately. Though minor differences in technical specifications were found, there was general agreement among the various sources.

A national telephone survey of 300 people with disabilities was conducted to determine their needs and preferences relative to the effective access to swimming pools. Telephone interviews were completed with 205 subjects, 69% of the sample. Data were collected regarding subject characteristics; pool behavior including frequency, purpose and type of pool used; preferences and problems associated with various means used to access swimming pools. The findings indicated that people with disabilities do use swimming pools with some regularity. There was nearly unanimous agreement that at least one accessible means of entry and exit should be provided at all pools, and most believed that more than one accessible means should be provided. Subjects also clearly indicated that the ability to use a design or device independently was important to them. Although no one means of access was preferred by a majority of subjects, the means of access most often preferred were lifts, ramps stairs, and zero depth entry. Stairs however were only preferred by those who were ambulatory. Similarly, ramps, zero depth entry, movable floors and lifts were the means of access most subjects would be willing to use at a pool. Yet, most of those who had previously used a movable floor would not be willing to use one again.

A national telephone survey of 150 professionals involved with swimming pool operation was conducted. The sample included swimming pool operators, pool managers, aquatic directors, adaptive aquatics instructors, and aquatic therapists. The purpose of this study was to determine the current practices of pool operations related to entering and exiting swimming pools by people with disabilities. Specifically, the study was designed to examine the prevalence of designs and devices used to provide pool access, related policies and procedures, as well as safety and maintenance concerns of aquatic professionals. The results supported the finding of the earlier survey that people with disabilities do frequent pools. People with disabilities account for 14% of pool users at those pools that collect data on pool users with disabilities. Seventy-three percent of the respondents indicated that each of the pools operated by their agencies had a least one accessible means of entry for people with disabilities and 48% reported more than one. Stairs, lifts, ramps, and zero depth entry were the means of access most frequently found at pools. Respondents reported on the safety and maintenance concerns for each of the devices or designs.

On-site testing of the identified means of pool access was conducted to examine the appropriateness, independent use, and safety of the identified means of pool access by people with diverse disabilities. This was accomplished by observing 84 people with disabilities using the identified means of providing access to swimming pools. Subjects' buoyancy points (=34.6 in.) and their perceptions of design/device strengths and weaknesses were presented. Entering was perceived as easier than exiting swimming pools using each of the identified means of water access. There were significant differences between ambulatory and non-ambulatory subjects in the perceived difficulty of the designs and devices. Most of the designs and devices were significantly easier to use by ambulatory subjects than they were for non-ambulatory subjects. Only lifts and transfer steps were easier for non-ambulatory subjects, although non-ambulatory subjects who required assistance in transfers were unable to use the transfer steps. Specific problems with each of the designs and devices were reported.

A full print copy of the Swimming Pool Accessibility Project final report (#PB97-124317) may be obtained by contacting the National Technical Information Service (NTIS): 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161; (703) 487-4650 (voice) or 703-487-4639 (tty). A fee of $49.00 will be charged for each copy.