According to the US Department of Justice:

“Providing equal opportunity to people with disabilities is the fundamental principle of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”  …

“For the first time, the 2010 Standards set minimum requirements for making swimming pools, wading pools, and spas (pools) accessible… Public accommodations must bring existing pools into compliance with the 2010 Standards to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so.”  

http://www.ada.gov/pools_2010.htm

We support this principle.  Our intention here is to help pool owners understand whether or not they are required to comply with the ADA standards for public pools and spas.  While we have researched this question extensively and have spoken with the Department of Justice many times, we cannot guarantee this information and this is not a legal opinion.

ADA Requirements for Swimming Pools

All public swimming facilities are required to be compliant with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by January 31, 2013 (or the first day of pool operation, if after January 31).

What facilities must comply?

According to the US Department of Justice, all "public accommodations (municipalities, schools, hotels and government facilities) must bring existing pools into compliance with the 2010 standards to the extent that it is readily achievable." Additionally, any private facility that is open to the public, sells tickets for admission, sells memberships to anyone who will pay the membership fee, etc. must comply.

What facilities do NOT have to comply?

Private swimming facilities, which are not open to the public, are not required to comply. Most private swim clubs, homeowners association pools and country clubs that have selective membership standards, rent to members only, and host swim meets closed to the public. Note that not all swim clubs, homeowners association pools and country clubs qualify as private under the rules.

A neighborhood pool (that is otherwise private) with a swim team does NOT become public just because they host a swim meet with another neighborhood team.   A team for a private facility should not recruit non-members to be on their team.  Additionally, access to meets should be limited to family, friends and invited guests.  The host team does not need to be concerned with whether the visiting team is private or public.  It is how they conduct their own facility that will determine whether or not they must comply with the ADA requirements.

By looking at the continuum below, all facilities fall somewhere on the spectrum.  Unfortunately, there is a gray area as there is no definite line that determines a facility public vs. private. The key questions are “Who is the swimming pool open to?” and “Does the swimming pool provide a ‘place of public accommodation’?” If there are questions regarding where a facility falls on the spectrum, the Department of Justice has an information line at 800-514-0301, and there are a number of attorneys who are very knowledgeable regarding the complexities of the ADA. 

 Even if a pool is considered public, it is only required to make changes to comply if the work is “readily achievable”.

What does readily achievable mean?

The US Department of Justice has stated that a facility of public accommodation is required to bring their existing pool into compliance if it is "easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." For a facility's compliance to be "readily achievable," the process takes into consideration the nature and cost of the action, the resources of the site, and the relationship, resources, and operation of any parent entity.

Examples of NOT being readily achievable:

• A public accommodation pool in financial distress where the purchase of
  a lift or cost of construction is cost prohibitive.
• A public accommodation pool utilized for swim meets and races where
  the construction of a ramp or installation of a lift would affect the
  functionality of the pool (8 lanes would become 7 lanes).
• A public accommodation pool is restricted by its physical plant and does
  not have the space to extend the wading pool to achieve a zero point entry.
• A public accommodation pool is restricted by its physical plant and the
  renovation to achieve a zero point entry in the wading pool is cost
  prohibitive.
 

What is required?

For swimming facilities which must comply, the following requirements are in force:

FAQs

Q. Are Pool Stairs an Acceptable Means of Access?

A. Yes, but only as a secondary means of access and steps must:

• Have uniform riser heights and tread depths
• Treads should be a minimum of 11” deep
• Open risers are not permitted
• Treads can slope, but not steeper than 1:48
• Width between handrails must be 20” – 24”
• ADA recommends visual contrast on leading edge of treads

Q. Are Zero Depth Entries ADA Compliant?

A. Yes, as a primary and / or secondary access, if they meet the
     following criteria:

• Have a minimum clear width of 36”
• Have a maximum slope of 1:12
• Be slip resistant
• Extend to a depth 24 – 30” below stationary water level
• Have at least one landing located 24 – 30” below stationary water level.
   In wading pools, sloped entry must extend to deepest part of the pool
• Must have handrails on both sides

Q. Do Wading Pools/Baby Pools have to have an Acceptable
     Means of Access?

A. Yes, each must have at least one (1) primary acceptable means
     of access.

Q. If I Previously Purchased a Portable Lift, Can I Still Use It?

A. If you have previously purchased a portable lift that complies with the requirements of the 2010 Standards for pool lifts (such as seat size, etc.) and fixing the lift to the pool deck or apron is not readily achievable, you may use the lift as long as it does not move while the pool is operational and open to guests. If you purchased the lift before March 15, 2012, the Department of Justice will not enforce the "fixed elements" of the 2010 Standards granted the lift is utilized within the guidelines above. If you purchased the lift after March 15, 2012, the obligation is on the facility to fix the lift to the pool deck or apron if the work is readily achievable or if the work becomes readily achievable in the future.  

Q. Can a Lift be Shared Between Pools at the Same Site?

A. No.  Sharing "non-fixed" lifts can pose safety risks to swimmers with disabilities because if the lift has to be moved to another pool, a person with a disability might be unable to get out of the pool. 

More details regarding "fixed" vs. "non-fixed" lifts can be found at http://www.ada.gov/qa_existingpools_titleIII.htm

Q. If a HOA has two pools in the neighborhood and one is determined to be public because they rent it out to groups, is the other pool automatically public even though it’s not rented out to groups?

A. No.  It’s facility by facility.

There is a lot of information on the US Department of Justice ADA website.  We have included some links below that may help pool owners better understand the issues regarding ADA compliance.

Actual settlements between owners and Dept. of Justice on ADA issues (not pools, yet).  This may give pool owners an idea of how an investigation may work out.

http://www.ada.gov/settlemt.htm

From ADA website: “Through lawsuits and settlement agreements, the Department of Justice has achieved greater access for individuals with disabilities in hundreds of cases. Under general rules governing lawsuits brought by the Federal government, the Department of Justice may not sue a party unless negotiations to settle the dispute have failed.

The Department of Justice may file lawsuits in federal court to enforce the ADA, and courts may order compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination if the Department prevails. Under title III, the Department of Justice may also obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.”

http://www.ada.gov/enforce.htm

Letter from Dept. of Justice to American Hotel Association regarding ADA and swimming pools.  Good information on portable lifts and “readily achievable”.

http://www.ada.gov/ahla_letter_2_21.htm

Find more information at the US Department of Justice or call the Department of Justice ADA Information line at 800-514-0301.