How Accessible are You?

December 08, 2011

An examination of the 2010 ADA Standards

Lexi Christoules-Chaput
Assistant Director, Informal Sports & Student Personnel
Indiana University

Ira Wrestler
Assistant Director, Aquatics and Safety
University Recreation
Central Michigan University

On July 26th, 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The law would prove to be a huge victory for Americans with disabilities in gaining equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. In celebrating the 20 anniversary of the act, the Department of Justice revised regulations and the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design were signed into law, and the revisions are sure to impact campus recreation facilities nationwide.

Below is a brief history of the act got to where it is today
1968 — Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)- First act put into place defining access standards
1990 — Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
1991 — Access Board publishes ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and Department of Justice signs into law
2002 — ADAAG is revised (adopted in 2004) — this is the first time recreation facilities are mentioned
2010 — ADAAG Standards for Accessible Design is created and signed into law

There are two major parties involved in the creation, implementation and enforcement of ADA standards and laws. The first party is The Access Board, an independent Federal agency created in 1973 to ensure access. It operates with 28 full time staff members. Half (14) of the representatives are appointed from most Federal departments, and the other 14 members are appointed by the president to a four-year term, a majority of whom must have a disability. The board is responsible for creating standards that are adopted by others, maintaining design criteria and providing technical assistance and training. This is the group who deals with standards for all new construction and can and should be contacted for consultation when facility planning is being done. This responsibility falls mainly with the architect of the facility, but the organization managing the facility after completion can also contact the Access Board with questions.

The other component of ADA standards and laws is the Department of Justice (DOJ). Although the Access Board creates the standards, only the DOJ can turn those standards into legislation that can be signed into law by the President. They are also the group to whom complaints are filed. Once a facility is built and occupied, it moves from “new construction”, overseen by the Access Board, to an “existing facility”, all of which are overseen by the DOJ.

There has been some confusion with the scope of the new guidelines. The 2002 ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) brought the first specific mention of recreation facilities, but with it also came an option for compliance by existing facilities:
“ADAAG and the final accessibility guidelines for recreation facilities apply to newly designed or newly constructed buildings and facilities and to existing facilities when they are altered. ADAAG and the Department of Justice regulations address whether a change to a building or facility is considered an alteration. The publication of this final rule does not require that all existing facilities be modified to meet these guidelines.” (2002 ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Recreation Facilities)

Like the 2002 ADAAG, the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design create new provisions for an area that impacts Campus Recreation professionals with the specific address of pools and spas in the legislation. You may find some articles that make it seem like that you have a choice with which standards you comply based on the age of your facility. While this was true of the 2002 ADAAG with recreation facilities, it is not true for the 2010 Guidelines specific to aquatic facilities.

All aquatic facilities, regardless of their first date of occupancy or most recent date of alteration must comply with the 2010 ADAAG aquatic facility standards by March 15, 2012. You can find very detailed information on the requirements in the 2010 standards on the ADA website. If you look in Chapter 2, Section 242 and Chapter 10, Section 1009 you will find specific information on requirements for pools and spas.

To give a brief summary of these requirements, here are the main points you will need to know.

  • If the distance around your pool is less than or equal to 300 linear feet, you are required to provide one accessible means of entry which must either be a lift or a sloped entry
  • If the distance around your pool is greater than 300 linear feet, you are required to provide at least two accessible means of entry, one of which must either be a lift or sloped entry and the other of which can be another lift or sloped entry, a transfer wall, transfer system or transfer stairs.
  • Wave pools and lazy rivers must have at least one entry which must be a lift, sloped entry or transfer system.
  • Wading pools should already comply with the one required entry, as long as the sloping of the wading pool meets the specific requirements
  • Spas must have one means of entry which can be either a lift, transfer wall or transfer system
  • Elevated water slides are not required to provide a means of getting to the top of the apparatus and catch pools at the bottom of the slides are not required to have a means of entry, but the edge of the catch pool must be on an accessible route.
  • All pool lifts must be able to be operated by the person with a disability without required assistance from the facility’s staff.

Please note that there are very specific requirements and specs for all of the accessibility means mentioned and the best way to ensure you are compliant is to seek guidance from the ADA’s online or print resources or from the Department of Justice’s ADA hotline, where there are professionals who can answer all ADA related questions.

Enforcement of the new standards will be handled by a complaint driven procedure where a complaint against a facility must be reported to the correct coordinating agency. Complaints against campus recreation facilities would be turned over to the U.S Department of Education. The process for enforcement is as follows:

  • A complaint against a facility is turned over to the correct coordinating agency.
  • The complaint will be reviewed to determine if it is valid and how to proceed.
  • Mediation will be the first step in working towards compliance.
  • If mediation cannot be reached an open investigation will begin most often resulting in a settlement. If an investigation is opened fines can range from $55,000-110,000.
  • If no settlement is reached the ADA will begin litigation.

Once the compliance of the facilities is determined and the steps needed that need to be taken to become compliant are defined, a facility manager should take a step back and look at how their facility, customer service and policies/procedures affect users with disabilities to ensure their needs are being met. After interviewing an athlete who uses a wheelchair and has visited aquatic facilities around the world, it was clear that there were some common complaints that the athlete had regarding facilities who had clearly not taken the time to identify how they can best meet a person with a disability’s need. Below is a list of some of the things facility managers can do to assess and/or address the complaints the athlete had at the facilities that she had a negative experience at.

Facility Concerns:

  • Locker rooms should be fully accessible in terms of points of access and the lockers, restrooms, and showers must be useable by patrons with a disability.
  • Make sure wheelchair access points leading to pools, fitness centers or other areas of the facility are unlocked and ready for use so user can avoid waiting for staff members or seeking out staff to gain entry to a certain area in the facility.
  • Routinely check the readiness and condition of all equipment used to help users with a disability gain access to different parts of the facility (pool lift, accessible entrances).

Staff/Customer Service:

  • Ensure all staff members are properly trained on accessibility lifts and correct points of entries to ensure users with a disability have the same quick and easy access to the facility as all other users.
  • Ensure staff has a welcoming attitude and willingness to help out so that users with disabilities feel welcome and comfortable using all parts of the facility as well as asking for the staff’s help if needed.

The 20th year anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act is more than a celebration of a historic date in history, but is also a time for organizations to evaluate their facilities and make sure that they are not only compliant with the new standards but that all areas of the facility are accessible and welcoming for all people with disabilities.
If you have questions about your facility, you can contact either the Access Board (for new construction) or the Department of Justice (for existing facilities) at:

US Access Board

US Department of Justice

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