Swimming pools must accommodate the disabled

FRESNO, Calif.

The Americans with Disability Act requires any swimming pool open to the public to be accessible to anybody, including those in wheelchairs.

The new law sounds like a good idea to Scott Johnston, who can't walk except in the water. "In the pool I can walk independently without anything holding me up."

Scott is 24. He is fortunate his parents were able to have the backyard pool modified with a ramp. His mom Lynn Johnston says it wasn't cheap. "I had to take out a house loan, yes, because he belonged in water."

Such accessibility is not required for private pools, but a new Federal Law requires all public swimming pools to provide access. Ramps are suggested for new construction. But pool lifts are an option for existing pools. They are basically a chair on a small lift, that lowers the passenger into and back out of the water.

Levi Winebrenner, with the Fresno Department of Parks and Recreation says the city of Fresno has purchased portable systems for its pools. "They get into the lift from the deck, use and up down out forward very simple controls, then they get into the pool they are able to get back out all on their own."

The biggest impact of this new law is on hotels and motels with pools. Many have installed lifts, but it's a very touchy subject. None of the many hotels and motels we contacted in Fresno and Clovis would let us get close to their pools, and none wanted to talk to us.

A spokesperson for the Fresno Convention and Visitors Bureau, which represents the hotel industry, told Action News many local hotels and motels have the equipment, but some are still trying to make sense of the federal regulations. They are afraid of being sued for failing to comply with regulations they don't completely understand.

A local consultant on the Americans with Disabilities Act, who did not want to be named, told Action News the regulations are subject to interpretation. He believes the law only requires pool owners to be making a reasonable effort to comply by removing obstacles or making plans to make their pools accessible. However, the Justice Department says pool owners must offer a legitimate reason as to why they can't comply. An internet search shows pool lifts with advertised prices of from $3000 to $8,000.

Scott Johnston hopes pool owners will make the investment. "Anything that will improve access for people with disabilities and give them the freedom to do anything and everything they want to that people without disabilities, or quote unquote, normal people, hate to use that term can do, I think is a good thing."

Spas and health clubs anyplace the public can swim are also required to comply.

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