Water activities often are included as elements of therapeutic programs, and they can be helpful for people with limited mobility. Handicap-accessible swimming pools help with ease of access into the water and provide safe swimming and wading spaces for people who use wheelchairs. Although the Americans With Disabilities Act mandates public pools include accommodations for wheelchair access, home pools can be modified to ensure the water is accessible for people of varying abilities.
The 2012 Standards for Accessible Design accepted by the Department of Justice under the Americans With Disabilities Act include regulations for wheelchair accessibility at public pools. Public pools must include means of safe, reasonable access for limited-mobility individuals, including ramps, lifts or sloped entries. Public pools that demonstrate significant barriers to adapting existing pools, such as cost, may claim an exemption, but pools constructed after the passing of the regulations must include safe means of entry and exit for individuals with challenges.
Means of entry and exit is only one consideration for wheelchair accessibility. Pool patios that only have stair access, pathways without curb ramps or pool gates that cannot be easily unlocked or accessed by a person in a wheelchair are factors that should be considered. Curb ramps and flat pathways around the pool area are important for ensuring the space is accessible.
Ramps can be installed beside or on top of a staircase entry into a pool; they allow aquatic wheelchairs to be driven directly into the water; they also allow individuals with some mobility to utilize handrails and walk into the water. Zero-depth entries mimic a shoreline; the depth of the water gradually increases and there is no curb or defined edge that would impede a wheelchair from entering. Nonslip surfaces and gradual slopes should be used in all sloped entries. All stairway entries should be equipped with handrails.
Chair lifts are mechanized arms mounted to the sides of pools that can lift an aquatic wheelchair and lower it into the water or safely transfer a person from a wheelchair and into the pool. Most lifts are designed so they can be used unassisted if the person has moderate mobility. A lift can be a fixed entity built directly into the pool infrastructure or not fixed so it can be added and adapted to existing pools.