The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-ranging civil rights law passed in 1990 that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The law requires employers or other entities to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense ("undue hardship"). It also requires state and local government-owned facilities under Title II to provide access to their programs, and public accommodations (such as shops, restaurants, and hotels) under Title III to provide access to new premises and remove barriers to existing facilities. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA.
After years of development, in which the pool and spa industry took part, a second round of regulations were adopted, referred to as the ADA regulations or 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Unlike the original 1990 regulations, the 2010 standards require that pools and spas in school districts, municipalities, cities, counties, commercial facilities, and hotels provide accessible means of entry for individuals with disabilities. The requirements apply to all facilities constructed or renovated on or after March 15, 2012. Existing facilities were originally required to be brought into compliance as of this date, to the extent it is readily achievable to do so. Because of interpretations and publications by the DOJ, the compliance date for existing pools and spas was then extended by the DOJ until January 31, 2013. Violators are subject to potential enforcement action by the DOJ or state authorities, and are also subject to civil lawsuits for damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees, by persons denied access.
The ADA recognizes that the retrofitting of existing facilities is not always practical or affordable. Therefore, existing pools and spas are excused if compliance is not readily achievable as of the effective date. The DOJ explains that determining if compliance is readily achievable includes an analysis of cost, owner resources, and feasibility. The DOJ cautions that facilities must continue to endeavor to comply and what is not achievable in 2013 may be considered readily achievable in 2014. Facilities that do not comply by the effective date are advised to have in place a written “barrier removal” plan documenting their efforts. The written plan may protect a facility against potential fines or other legal actions.
PHTA has and continues to strongly support accessibility for every pool and spa in all public accommodations, and we moved this process forward by educating industry professionals and facility owners about ADA compliance in the months and years since the new regulations. PHTA also submitted public comments to the DOJ to provide industry expertise on the methods of compliance, specifically a better understanding of portable and fixed lifts.