DOJ Clears the Air at Pool Access Webinar

Yesterday I attended the first of two webinars on swimming pool access, presented by the Department of Justice (DOJ). And I wasn’t alone as over 750 other people also logged on to it. The difference was that most of the folks were from the hospitality industry – the same industry that’s been lobbying for the repeal of the latest ADA guidelines for access to swimming pools and spas. I was merely there as an observer, as I was looking for some clue as to how the DOJ might respond to the industry request for an even longer extension to the implementation of those rules.

The webinar was held to “clear up misunderstandings about the new regulations” and there were some interesting points brought up by the DOJ representatives during the 1½ hour presentation.

  •  Barrier-removal should be an ongoing process, and it should be reevaluated every year.
  • The pool access rules are not exactly new, as they were adopted in 2010 after six years of public hearings, comments and feedback from the industry.
  • People with disabilities can and do like to swim. The only barrier they currently face is the inaccessibility of pools.
  • This is a Civil Rights issue. People with disabilities should have the same opportunity to use a pool, in the same manner as anybody else. To that end, all other access options must be explored, before sharing a lift between two pools will be allowed. Sharing a lift is only considered a temporary solution, and the situation must be re evaluated every year until full compliance is achievable.
  • Portable lifts cannot be stored in another area while the a pool is open. They must be freely available to guests so they can use them independently at their will.
  • The argument that lifts are backordered and not readily available at this time is no excuse for non-compliance. If this is in fact the case, compliance would not be readily achievable at this time, but will be required as soon as the equipment becomes available.
  • Ongoing training is essential, so that the front line staff knows how to respond to access questions. They should be familiar with the access features of the property and know how to set up, operate and maintain the pool lifts and other access equipment. Purchasing the equipment isn’t enough – it has to be available and operational in order for it to be accessible.
  • The argument that fixed pool lifts will create a safety hazard is unfounded, because it is based on speculation, instead of objective, reliable and credible evidence. One could argue or speculate that unattended pools, escalators, elevators and balconies also pose an equal safety hazard.
  • Threats or concerns of increased insurance rates because of unattended pool lifts are not a valid reason for non-compliance with the new regulations.
  • Although the DOJ prefers voluntary compliance with the regulations, the DOJ has the authority to investigate complaints and initiate compliance reviews. If violations are found, they prefer to negotiate a settlement agreement for barrier-removal; however fines and civil penalties can be issued in appropriate cases where it’s believed the place of public accommodation did not act in good faith.
  • A yearly tax credit of up to $5,125 and a yearly tax deduction of up to $15,000 is available to smaller businesses for barrier-removal; which makes compliance readily achievable for most places of public accommodation.

All in all I was pleased with the tone of the webinar. The DOJ representatives were helpful and informative and encouraged business owners to come to them with their questions; but, they stood firm on the fact that the rules will be implemented as written. There will be no changes at this time.

Now the only question is when will they be implemented. And that will be decided later this month. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that the DOJ doesn’t grant yet another extension to an industry that should already be in compliance.