Under the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design newly designed or newly constructed and altered swimming pools, wading pools, aquatic recreation facilities and spas have enforceable accessibility requirements effective March 15, 2012 which include a requirement to provide at least one accessible route into these types of elements.

Young women in a pool liftServices staff have received numerous requests from owners/operators of facilities that contain pools to clarify how these new standards apply to existing pools. Below is a summary of compliance dates and information on how existing pools are affected for both Title II (state & local government facilities) and Title III (places of public accommodation) entities.

For newly constructed and altered pools,  as well as existing pools that want to remove barriers to pool accessibility to comply with these new regulations, Section 242 of the 2010 ADA Standards contains the scoping for accessibility requirements.  The technical requirements for the design of these required accessibility features in pools are found in Section 1009. Both the scoping and technical requirements can be accessed via this link: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm

Application of the 2010 Design Standards to Existing Pools (not undergoing alterations)

Title II Entities:

Title II of the ADA covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding.

For Title II entities, March 15, 2012 is the compliance date for using the 2010 Standards for new construction, alterations, program accessibility, and barrier removal. On or after March 15, 2012, public entities must consider the supplemental requirements (such as those for swimming pools) in the 2010 Standards to assess their compliance with program accessibility.

Program Access is a term unique to Title II entities. Essentially, a public entity’s services, programs, or activities, when viewed in their entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. “Program Accessibility,” applies to all existing facilities of a public entity. Public entities, however, are not necessarily required to make each of their existing facilities accessible. Public entities may achieve program accessibility by a number of methods. In many situations, providing access to facilities through structural methods, such as alteration of existing facilities and acquisition or construction of additional facilities, may be the most efficient method of providing program accessibility. The public entity may, however, pursue alternatives to structural changes in order to achieve program accessibility. Nonstructural methods include acquisition or redesign of equipment, assignment of aides to beneficiaries, and provision of services at alternate accessible sites. A public entity may not deny the benefits of its programs, activities, and services to individuals with disabilities because its facilities are inaccessible.

Title III Entities:

Title III of the ADA covers places of public accommodations- private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs.

For Title III entities March 15, 2012 is the compliance date for the 2010 Standards, including the supplemental requirements for which there are no technical or scoping requirements in the 1991 Standards (such as swimming pools). Public accommodations must comply with the 2010 Standards’ supplemental requirements in existing facilities to the extent readily achievable.

The standard applied to Title III entities in existing facilities is known as “readily achievable barrier removal” – which is different than the standard applied to Title II entities (program accessibility) as explained above.

Young women in a pool liftEssentially, physical barriers to entering and using existing places of public accommodation facilities must be removed when “readily achievable.” Readily achievable means “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” It is important to note that what is readily achievable will be determined on a case-by-case basis in light of the resources (including financial resources) available. Some examples of barrier removal include: installing ramps, making curb cuts at sidewalks and entrances, rearranging tables, chairs, vending machines, display racks, and other furniture, widening doorways, installing grab bars in toilet stalls, and adding raised letters or braille to elevator control buttons. First priority should be given to measures that will enable individuals with disabilities to “get in the front door,” followed by measures to provide access to areas providing goods and services.

In summary, unlike private entities under title III, public entities are not required to remove barriers from each facility, even if removal is readily achievable. A public entity must make its “programs” accessible. Physical changes to a building are required only when there is no other feasible way to make the program accessible. Title II entities will have to evaluate the pools that they have available for use and determine whether or not program access is achieved for people with disabilities. It will be up to the Title II entity to determine how they will achieve “Program Access” to pools and ultimately whether or not structural modifications are necessary to achieve program access, or if they have achieved program access by some other means (i.e. providing one accessible pool at the local community center that complies with the 2010 ADA Design Standards).

In contrast, barriers must be removed from places of public accommodation under title III where such removal is “readily achievable,” without regard to whether the public accommodation’s services can be made accessible through other methods. So if for example a hotel has a pool that is inaccessible, and it does not undergo any alterations after March 15, 2012, the operator of the pool still has an obligation to investigate if it is “readily achievable” to remove the barriers to access at the pool and provide access by installing a pool lift, transfer steps, etc…. The evaluation of what is readily achievable, once again, will vary depending on a number of factors including the financial resources of the place of public accommodation.

Alterations to Existing Pools:

The U.S. Department of Justice has provided guidance on the application of the 2010 Design Standards to pools that undergo an alteration for both Title II and III entities. When pools are altered, those alterations are covered under section 202.3 of the 2010 Standards and the definition of “alteration” is provided in section 106.5. A physical change to a swimming pool which affects or could affect the usability of the pool is considered to be an alteration. Changes to the mechanical and electrical systems, such as filtration and chlorination systems, are not alterations. Exception 2 to section 202.3 permits an altered swimming pool to comply with applicable requirements to the maximum extent feasible if full compliance is technically infeasible. “Technically infeasible” is also defined in section 106.5 of the 2010 Standards.

Young women in a pool liftWhen pools are altered and made accessible, there are several options that may be used to provide access into the water, including pool lifts, sloped entries, transfer walls, transfer steps and pool stairs. Large pools (any pool with over 300 linear feet of pool wall) must have a minimum of two accessible means of entry. The primary means of entry must be either a sloped entry into the water or a pool lift that is capable of being independently operated by a person with a disability. The secondary means of entry could be a pool lift, sloped entry, transfer wall, transfer system, or pool stairs. It is recommended that where two means of entry are provided, they be different types and be situated on different pool walls. Pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall are only required to provide one accessible means of entry, which must be either a pool lift or sloped entry.

State Building Codes – Impact on Pool Accessibility:

As with all issues related to accessibility, remember that there are often “layers” of accessibility compliance that must be addressed. Of course ADA compliance is required for Title II and Title III entities as described above, but most states also have building code requirements in place that require accessibility that is enforced at the state/local level as well. In fact, some states (but not all) have accessibility requirements in place that impact the accessibility of pools and spas. For example, the New Jersey Barrier Free Subcode

§ 5:23-7.20 “Recreation: pools” has required an accessible route into swimming pools for a number of years. The requirements for an accessible means of entry into swimming pools are not identical to the 2010 ADA Standards, so owners and designers for projects in New Jersey must determine if pools comply with both the NJ Barrier Free Subcode and the 2010 ADA Standards when undergoing new construction, alterations and/or barrier removal at pools.

Another example is California. The California Building Code Section 1104B.4.3 contains scoping requirements for pools required to be accessible as “participation areas”. The technical requirements for accessible means of entry (including pool lifts) are not identical to the pool lift requirements found in the 2010 ADA Standards, and the scoping requirements have differences as well. These are just two examples that illustrate the importance of checking the applicable building code in the jurisdiction where existing pools are located to see if there are any other state or local regulations that require accessibility into pools.

International Building Code & ICC ANSI A117.1 Implications:

Many jurisdictions nationwide have adopted the ICC International Building Code and its accessibility reference standard, ICC ANSI A117.1 as their enforceable code for accessibility. While the 2003 edition of the ICC ANSI A117.1 standard does not contain technical requirements for many recreation features (as the 2010 ADA Standards do), the latest edition of ANSI A117.1 – 2009 has a new Chapter 11 that does contain the technical requirements for a number of places of recreation, including pools, with requirements that were modeled after the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Because of these additions to the 2009 edition of the ICC ANSI A117.1 standard, many state codes that enforce the scoping in the 2009 and 2012 editions of the International Building Code, used in conjunction with the 2009 edition of ICC ANSI A117.1 will now require an accessible means of entry into pools. There will be exceptions that apply to existing pools that undergo alterations when compliance with the new requirements is technically infeasible.


The application of pool accessibility requirements is impacted by the new 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the extent to which existing pools must be modified to comply with these new standards varies from entity to entity based on the “Program Access” and “Barrier Removal” standards. Additional requirements for accessibility at pools may be in place via the applicable state building code, and if this is the case, these requirements must be applied to pools in conjunction with the 2010 ADA Standards. Accessibility Services is here to assist you as you work to improve the accessibility of your existing and newly constructed and/or altered pools and spas. We can help you apply the ADA requirements reviewed above – as well as any state building code requirements that may be applicable to pools in certain jurisdictions.

Should you have questions about the accessibility of pools, feel free to contact Jennifer Perry, Accessibility Services at 718.803.3782 #7504 or jperry@accessibility-services.com