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New ADA laws requiring public pools to be fully accessible weighs heavy on East Tennessee hospitality businesses

By Knoxville Daily Sun Staff

On Tuesday, January 31, 2011 the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an interpretation of when and how lifts need to be installed at public swimming pools under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Although the DOJ did not specifically address spas, the principles set forth in the DOJ guidance could apply to spas as well.

Lifts need to be available and in position at each pool at all times when a pool is open to the public. Only "fixed" lifts are acceptable, unless a hotel can demonstrate that installing such a lift is not readily achievable. If it is not readily achievable to have a fixed lift, then a portable one can be used if it meets the 2010 Standards requirements and the lift is securely in place during all operating hours.

For pools owned by state and local governments, sharing lifts between two pools is not allowed, unless the entity can show an "undue burden." Lifts cannot be shared between a pool and a spa.

Pool lift batteries must be fully charged and ready for use at all times the pool is open.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), they are greatly disappointed at this interpretation, which will cost the lodging industry additional millions in compliance obligations and comes less than two months before the March 15 compliance date.

The DOJ published final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for public accommodations and commercial facilities on September 15, 2010 and stated that "People with disabilities were, for too long, excluded from participating in many recreational activities, including swimming."

The revised 2010 Standards change that. For the first time, the 2010 Standards set minimum requirements for making swimming pools, wading pools, and spas (pools) accessible. Newly constructed and altered pools must meet these requirements. Public entities and public accommodations also have obligations with respect to existing pools. State and local governments must make recreational programs and services, including swimming pool programs, accessible to people with disabilities. Public accommodations must bring existing pools into compliance with the 2010 Standards to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so.

The requirements for newly constructed and existing pools will ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy the same activities —- a community swim meet; private swim lessons; a hotel pool -- at the same locations and with the same independence, ease, and convenience as everyone else.

Published February 1, 2012

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