How to Make Sense of ADA Standards for Swimming Pools

Written by Michael Dean
February 29, 2024

swimming pool with chair lift

Excellent disability access is crucial, especially considering how individuals with disabilities have often faced barriers that have excluded them from the simple aspects of life, swimming pools included. But campaigns and efforts by advocates and activists lobbying for equal access and accommodation in all public facilities have turned things around in recent years.

One such example is the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards. These regulations have also paved the way for easy public access for all in swimming pools and spas. But what are the ADA standards, and how do they apply to public and private pools? Let’s break that down.

Main Takeaways

  • The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards establish standards of accessibility to pools, spas, and other recreational facilities to allow enjoyment for all.
  • Mechanisms such as pool lifts, transfer walls, and sloped entries are essential features for public pools to enable easy access.
  • While only public pools are required to comply with ADA standards, make sure you understand the difference between a private and public pool.
  • If you’re in doubt about whether the pool you manage is public or private, talk to an ADA official or local municipal authority.

What Are ADA Standards for Swimming Pools?

The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards have been a crucial breakthrough in establishing standards of accessibility to pools, spas, and other recreational facilities. They aim to ensure that access to activities and facilities in public spaces is equally enjoyable for those with disabilities, the elderly, and those with an injury—whether it’s a pool party, swimming lessons, a community swim meet, a hotel pool function, an afternoon in the spa with friends, or hydrotherapy classes. The idea is to allow everyone the same level of independence, ease, convenience, and dignity.

Let’s have a closer look at these standards for swimming pools below.

ADA Standards for Swimming Pools

First, the 2010 Standards outline two categories of pools: small pools with less than 300 linear feet of wall and larger pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall. The former requires one primary means of access. The latter requires two means of access, of which one must be primary and must be a pool lift or sloped entry.

With that established, here’s a quick breakdown of key ADA standards related to swimming pools.

Pool Lifts

Being able to enter the area or facility with ease is the first step to making a pool accessible to individuals with disabilities. One option that offers ease of access is pool lifts. The requirements for them specified by ADA are as follows:

  • The lift must have a seat, a minimum of 16 inches wide, where the person can sit comfortably and transfer into from their mobility device.
  • The device must have a lifting mechanism, allowing it to rise above or submerge below to a depth in the pool with ease. This allows individuals to be lowered into the water and raised back to the pool deck when needed.
  • Controls should be easy to reach and user-friendly, and pool staff should be fully trained to operate them.
  • A footrest is required to provide stability during usage (not required in hot tubs). While armrests are not required, if provided, they must be removable.
  • The seat should submerge to a depth of at least 18 inches to ensure buoyancy.

Sloped Entries

A sloped entry is also known as a beach entry. As the name suggests, it is a gradually sloping section on the edge of the pool that allows for gentle entry from the pool deck and into the water. This is a popular alternative to ladders or steps. Their requirements are as follows:

  • Sloped entries should not have a slope steeper than 1:12.
  • It should extend into the pool to a depth of a minimum of 24 inches and a maximum of 30 inches.
  • The slope should be a non-slip surface, and handrails should be provided to make ascent or descent easier.
  • There must be handrails on both sides of the entry.

Secondary Access: Transfer Walls

Pool transfer walls are structures that have been designed to enable the transfer of individuals from a wheelchair to the pool. This type of access is generally used for hot tubs. The requirements include:

  • Transfer walls must be parallel to the pool wall to enable a stable surface for people to use during the process.
  • The top of the wall must be situated at a specified height above the pool deck between 16 to 19 inches, and the wall should be at least 60 inches long for safe, effective transfer.
  • Deck space around the transfer wall should be clear and accessible for safe approach by wheelchair.
  • The surface must be slip-resistant and easy to grip.
  • There must be at least one grab bar on the transfer wall.
  • Since transfer walls are a secondary means of access, you must still have a pool lift or sloped entry as a primary means of access.

Secondary Access: Accessible Pool Stairs

Pool stairs are a secondary type of access used by disabled individuals to access the pool from a standing position. They must provide balance and support in the following ways:

  • The staircase should be easy to use and able to be attached anywhere along the pool edge for effortless exit or entry.
  • It should have a deck adapter platform to allow a smooth transition from the poolside to the ladder.
  • The stairs should have side skirting to prevent underwater entrapment, as well as slip-resistant steps.
  • Note that since accessible pool stairs are a secondary type of access, you must still have a pool lift or sloped entry as a primary means of access.

Additional Consideration: Accessible Pool Chairs

Accessible pool chairs are resting devices for individuals outside of the pool who are looking for an accessible place to sit. Here’s what they should have:

  • The base of the chair should be firm, stable, and durable.
  • They should be equipped to allow for easy transfer from a wheelchair or other mobility device, and you must be able to lower or raise it as needed.
  • They should be placed strategically in areas where it’s convenient for individuals to approach and transfer onto the chair.
  • They should have user-friendly options for reclining or adjustments to accommodate various preferences.

Remember, while these cover the key elements, I urge you to refer to the most recent ADA standards to be sure, and if you’re still in doubt, consult a reliable municipal authority to ensure full compliance with the ADA.

ADA Compliance for Public vs. Private Pools

If you own a private pool, you are exempt from ADA compliance. But it’s important to understand the difference between a public and private pool to fully ensure you are exempt from the requirements.

As per the ADA, a public pool for which accessible entry is mandated typically includes municipal pools, government-owned pools, gym pools, hotel pools, school pools, and any pool meant for public use. A private pool, on the other hand, naturally implies one owned by an individual in a private residence but also covers clubhouse or swim club pools or neighborhood pools overseen by the HOA since membership to these is exclusive and available only to certain individuals.

As you can see, there is often some confusion regarding the ADA’s definition of a private vs. public swimming pool. An easier way to determine the difference is that a private pool restricts its use to only residents or members. If the pool provides any public accommodation, it is considered a public swimming pool and must comply with ADA standards.

Should I Make My Private Pool ADA-Compliant?

According to the ADA, your private pool doesn’t need to be ADA-compliant, but you can choose to make one. So, should you go through the trouble?

First, opting for accessibility enhancements reflects a commitment to inclusivity and social responsibility. Making a private pool ADA-compliant can significantly broaden its accessibility, allowing friends, family, or guests with disabilities to enjoy the pool without barriers or awkwardness. This decision also aligns with the broader societal shift towards creating environments that cater to diverse needs. Additionally, improving the accessibility of your pool can even increase the overall value and appeal of a property.

While these are excellent pros to consider when deciding whether to make your private pool ADA-compliant, it is primarily up to you and the people around you. For example, if it’s a residential pool that only you and your family will use, and no one needs a pool lift, sloped entry, or transfer wall, there’s no need to shell out the extra money to install it. 

Making Pools Accessible to Everyone

Acts like the ADA are essential to standardizing how all kinds of people use recreational facilities since they mandate that they abide by certain accessibility standards, with specific rules for ease of accommodation. Being differently abled should never impede anyone’s ability to have a good splash in the pool!

Anything further about pools and other questions about compliance that I can help you out with? Drop me a line. I’m always happy to help.

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