Articles, Health and Wellness, Musings, Philosophy, Spa, Spa Evidence

Aquatic Access: Bringing the heart of Spa to the disabled and the elderly


In America, we are accustomed to seeing access ramps to buildings and other structures for the disabled and the wheelchair bound elderly but for many years, the waters of the Spa have been off limits to them. This is changing thanks to a new move by the ADA to require special lift access to spas and pools by March 15th of 2012. A company named Aquatic Access has designed a lift before the deadline that will provide this new found freedom for the disabled but it seems that the deadline has now been pushed back to January 2013 for preexisting pools and spas. According to reports, too many facilities were confused by the new requirements and had no idea how to provide access to spas and pools for the disabled. This only goes to show just how divorced mainstream business is from the heart of Spa and Spa philosophy.

Water is essential in any Spa. I could write forever about ancient thermal pools and how the Romans had spa resorts for taking the waters before the empire crumbled but I think my readers get the point. Water matters and bringing water based therapies to the disabled and the elderly is a valuable service that deserves recognition. I for one find this kind of upgrade to existing spa services extraordinary but I admit I am disappointed to learn that people were confused by the new requirements. From my point of view, what is there to be confused about? Apparently, estimates have placed the number of pools that need to be brought into compliance at around 100,000, and a backlog of orders at lift-manufacturing facilities are a primary reason for the deadline extensions. To quote verbatim from Aqua Magazine’s article on the subject:

An example of the confusion among pool operators, the DOJ said, was the incorrect belief that operators “would have to close pools due to an inability to provide access, even though the regulations allow pool owners and operators to use non-fixed lifts or no lifts at all in circumstances where the provision of access is not readily achievable.”

“Readily achievable,” according to the DOJ, is a term that means “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” A number of factors are used in determining whether the installation of access equipment is “readily achievable” and therefore mandated by law. The pool’s ability to pay for it is just one such factor.

For a full and almost willfully obscure list of other factors, readers may visit http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-12365_PI.pdf.

Another point of confusion, the DOJ said, was the widely held belief that any pool providing a portable lift would achieve compliance. It does not. Fixed and built-in lifts or access means are required by ADA (assuming these are “readily achievable”).

In general, the ADA mandate states that for public pools less than 300 linear feet in size, one means of access is required, which must be either an ADA-compliant lift or a sloped entry. Pools with greater than 300 linear feet of pool wall must also have a second means of access — either another lift or ramp, or a transfer wall, a transfer system or pool stairs.

Given Spas relationship to water as part of a health based philosophy, this delay shows just how much PR work remains to be done across and throughout the culture at large when it comes to grounding the heart of Spa philosophy in the public mind. This innovation is long overdue and I hope that by informing my readers of this important legislation that I am doing my part to ensure and promote the inherent value of what Spas have to offer our society.

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