How to make pools accessible to all guests

As the spring and summer months approach, the hotel pool becomes a go-to spot for guests looking for rest, relaxation and a place to cool off. But some may find it difficult to access the pool due to a disability. Missoula, MT-based Aqua Creek Products manufactures lifts, access chairs and other equipment so every guest can take a dip.

For Marley Cunningham, Aqua Creek’s chief marketing officer, disability means more than a wheelchair user or senior citizen with a walker: “It’s the veteran who was injured in combat; it’s your friend who just had knee surgery and needs the pool for physical therapy; or it’s the mother who simply has bad knees and can’t climb a ladder into the pool.”

So, how does a hotel make the pool accessible to all? It must look to The ​​Americans With Disablilities Act (ADA).

“The ADA outlines the legal requirements for pools,” said Cunningham. “There are contributing factors that might affect what is required of a specific pool including its size, and whether it’s public or private; both are required to provide a primary form of ADA access that is on a clear, wheelchair accessible route in the form of a sloped entry or a pool lift.

The ADA also requires that accessible features must be in working order. However, Cunningham noted, “There is a lot that the ADA does not cover when you get right down to it, and there are many steps that a hotel can take to go above and beyond what’s required to achieve a truly inclusive design, and it begins with the booking process.”

First, she noted, a hotel should remove the obscurity for disabled guests who are looking for an accessible travel destination by letting them know ahead of time that it is committed to accessibility.

“Resorts such as the L’Auberge Del Mar [pictured above] in Del Mar, CA, have an entire webpage on their site dedicated to resort accessibility,” Cunningham pointed out. “They let their guests know ahead of time every aspect of their resort that is accessible including all routes to and from the main entrance, all areas where food and beverages are sold, guestrooms, elevators, parking, meeting rooms and more, allowing their guests to book with total confidence. They even go a step further by training their staff to accommodate guests with special needs so that everyone can have a safe and enjoyable stay.”

Of course, retrofitting the pool area could be expensive; however, for existing properties making modifications, “the IRS offers up to $15,000 annually for businesses that remove architectural barriers to the mobility of people with disabilities and the elderly,” she said.

Aqua Creek started out as a pool lift manufacturer and, according to Cunningham, “after 20 years [we] have become what is arguably the gold standard in the pool access industry by pioneering many developments such as solar power and custom colors to help our products blend in with the pool’s decor.”

The company was the first pool lift manufacturer to have its lifts independently verified to meet ADA regulations. “In fact, we were on the UL Standards Technical Panel that helped create the UL Safety Standard for pool lifts, and currently have the most pool lift models that are UL Compliant with the new Pool Lift Standard,” she added.

Aqua Creek also sells PVC pool access chairs and aqua therapy and training equipment such as the PVC Aqua Walker and the PVC swim training platform, both of which can be used in the pool.

Aqua Creek, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in April, has sold tens of thousands of pool lifts to hotels and resorts around the world. “In addition to the L’Auberge Del Mar, other notable hotel clients are the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Tower, Arizona Biltmore Waldorf Astoria Resort and Choctaw Casino & Resort in Oklahoma, among many other,” said Cunningham, who added, “As more and more hotels and pool designers pick up our products, and as hotels begin to replace their lower quality lifts, we predict that this market will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.”

As part of its 20th-anniversary celebration, the company will offer Anniversary Edition Pool Lifts featuring custom powder coat colors and introducing our new granite textures in our seats, Cunningham said.

She concluded with some advice: “Instead of seeing pool lifts as an expense and removing them from your marketing photos because you think they’re unsightly, try rethinking your strategy: Accessibility isn’t an undue burden; it’s an amenity you should be advertising. It all boils down to committing to equitable treatment of all guests and removing the systematic barriers that cause us to experience the world so differently. Accessibility for all people isn’t [just] important—it’s foundational.”