It's the kind of news that seriously ticks you off when you have a child with special needs, but it's the kind of news that should perturb anyone with a heart.
By Ellen Seidman
By March 15, hotels and city recreation centers with public pools and spas were supposed to install or order permanent lifts, or get pool ramps, to make them accessible to kids and adults with special needs; the lifts allow them to transfer from wheelchairs into the water. This accessibility is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The deadline got extended by two months as the hotel industry and Congressional reps resisted. And now, hotels and places with public pools have until January 31, 2013 to comply.
This means we're headed into one more summer that countless kids and adults around the country won't be able to use their local pools. One more summer when parents will struggle to carry their child with disabilities into the pool because there is no other way, or give up and not go at all.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, pool manufacturers say the law applies to about 256,000 pools and spas around the country; only a small percentage, they estimate, are equipped with lifts. Even more mind-boggling is the resistance the accessibility legislation triggered. The American Hotel & Lodging Association urged members to push for a delay in enforcing the ADA at pools. Meanwhile, on March 14 South Carolina Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham introduced a bill to inherently prevent the ADA from being enforced at public pools and spas. On March 16, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) backed a similar bill.
What were they thinking? Well, as DeMint explained it, the enforcement of accessibility "could lead to increased litigation and heavy fines that could force pools to close or raise fees on families." His proposal: "Pools with public access should have the flexibility to work directly with people with disabilities to accommodate their needs."
I'd like to see Senator DeMint stand in front of a child with disabilities and tell him that, sorry, he can't use his local pool because of concerns about lawsuits.
Of course, it's important that hotels and rec centers get the right accessibility equipment and have a general plan in place before they comply. But how is it even possible there are any places left that haven't gotten around to doing this, let alone major hotel chains? As for the hotel industry's concern that permanent lifts could pose a safety hazard to children tempted to play with them, the fact is, pools are generally dangerous places for kids. Which is why you are not supposed to leave them unattended.
Surely hotels could figure out a way to make sure kids don't use permanent lifts as pool jungle gyms. Surely hotels should get a grip and realize that kids and adults with disabilities deserves fair access to its amenities. Swimming is not a luxury; every child and adult deserves the right to enjoy this summer pleasure.
This spring, my town installed handicap-access ramps in our public pool, including one descending right into it. Progress? Yes. Overdue? Very much so. On July 26 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. Two years ago, the ADA was amended to include pool accessibility. And now we're here in 2012 and kids and adults with disabilities are still being denied access to pools. For shame.
Read more about special needs on Ellen Seidman's blog To The Max. This story first appeared on Parents.com.