Most public pool owners probably have no objection to providing access for disabled swimmers. Facilities that serve the public have operated under the Americans with Disabilities Act for two decades now.
But ambiguous guidance for a potentially expensive requirement is not the way to get it done. And that's what we have with guidelines from the U.S. Justice Department on pending requirement to provide access to public pools.
The regulations require buying and installing chair lifts that lower physically disabled swimmers into the water.
Pool owners thought portable lifts, which could be brought out on demand or moved from one spot to another, would suffice for changes made to the law in 2010 and set to go into effect in mid-March. But in January, the Justice Department came out with the guidelines that a permanent lift or ramp must be added for each pool and hot tub if it is clear that installation would be "affordable and feasible."
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Permanent lifts can cost between $3,500 and $6,000, industry officials say, and that doesn't count the cost of installation. Failure to abide by the law can bring a fine of up to $55,000.
A New York business journal reported this e-mail answer from the Justice Department to a question about what was required: "An existing pool must do what is readily achievable (affordable and easy). If a fixed lift is affordable and easy for that hotel, they need to provide a fixed lift. If only a portable lift is affordable and easy for that hotel, they can use a portable lift. If they already have a portable lift, they should explore whether it is affordable and easy to attach the lift. If no lift is achievable, they should make a plan to achieve access when it becomes readily achievable for them."
That suggests someone is going to have to determine case-by-case whether a pool owner can "afford" a permanent lift or whether a permanent lift is "achievable."
There must be a better way to do this.
After industry complaints, the Justice Department gave pool owners another 60 days to comply. In the meantime, they should also come up with clear, specific guidance on what meets the requirement. The answer above does not do that.
Bart Brophy, a local advocate for the disabled who has used a wheelchair for 30 years, is right to be vigilant about making sure pools are accessible for disabled swimmers. Pool owners shouldn't look for ways to delay compliance. And he has a sensible approach:
"(Pool owners) just have to think about if their own cousin wanted to get in the pool and couldn't -- how would you solve that problem?"
Ambiguous rules that add needlessly to the cost of providing access are not the way to go about it.