The U.S Access Board contracted the National Center on Accessibility
(contract QA95007001) to conduct a research study on access to
swimming pools for people with disabilities. The following
pages include the findings of the research project.
This project was conducted for the U.S.
Architecture and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
to identify and evaluate methods and standards related to enabling
access to swimming pools by people with disabilities. It focused
on the appropriateness, independent use, degree of consistency
with existing building standards, level of safety, and impact
on pool design.
With the assistance of a national advisory panel, four principal
activities were undertaken: a comprehensive review of literature;
a national telephone survey of people with disabilities; a national
telephone survey of swimming pool operators, managers, aquatic
directors, and adaptive aquatic instructors; and actual pool testing
of identified designs and devices by people with disabilities.
A comprehensive review of the literature was organized into four
areas. The first area was a review of the published literature
of the past 35 years. Seven means of pool access were identified:
ramps, lifts, stairs, transfer steps, lifts, zero depth entry,
movable floors, and transfer walls. The second area reviewed was
the state building codes related to swimming pools. Relevant standards
from each state code were presented in table format. The third
area examined was the existing standards for public swimming pools
and spas, ANSI/NSPI-1 1991 and ANSI/NSPI-2 1992. Finally, the
fourth area analyzed the report of the Recreation Access Advisory
Committee (1994). The recommendations of each of the sub-committee
reports that dealt with swimming pools, sports facilities, places
of amusement, and developed outdoor recreation areas, were analyzed
separately. Though minor differences in technical specifications
were found, there was general agreement among the various sources.
A national telephone survey of 300 people with disabilities was
conducted to determine their needs and preferences relative to
the effective access to swimming pools. Telephone interviews were
completed with 205 subjects, 69% of the sample. Data were collected
regarding subject characteristics; pool behavior including frequency,
purpose and type of pool used; preferences and problems associated
with various means used to access swimming pools. The findings
indicated that people with disabilities do use swimming pools
with some regularity. There was nearly unanimous agreement that
at least one accessible means of entry and exit should be provided
at all pools, and most believed that more than one accessible
means should be provided. Subjects also clearly indicated that
the ability to use a design or device independently was important
to them. Although no one means of access was preferred by a majority
of subjects, the means of access most often preferred were lifts,
ramps stairs, and zero depth entry. Stairs however were only preferred
by those who were ambulatory. Similarly, ramps, zero depth entry,
movable floors and lifts were the means of access most subjects
would be willing to use at a pool. Yet, most of those who had
previously used a movable floor would not be willing to use one
A national telephone survey of 150 professionals involved with
swimming pool operation was conducted. The sample included swimming
pool operators, pool managers, aquatic directors, adaptive aquatics
instructors, and aquatic therapists. The purpose of this study
was to determine the current practices of pool operations related
to entering and exiting swimming pools by people with disabilities.
Specifically, the study was designed to examine the prevalence
of designs and devices used to provide pool access, related policies
and procedures, as well as safety and maintenance concerns of
aquatic professionals. The results supported the finding of the
earlier survey that people with disabilities do frequent pools.
People with disabilities account for 14% of pool users at those
pools that collect data on pool users with disabilities. Seventy-three
percent of the respondents indicated that each of the pools operated
by their agencies had a least one accessible means of entry for
people with disabilities and 48% reported more than one. Stairs,
lifts, ramps, and zero depth entry were the means of access most
frequently found at pools. Respondents reported on the safety
and maintenance concerns for each of the devices or designs.
On-site testing of the identified means of pool access was conducted
to examine the appropriateness, independent use, and safety of
the identified means of pool access by people with diverse disabilities.
This was accomplished by observing 84 people with disabilities
using the identified means of providing access to swimming pools.
Subjects' buoyancy points ( =34.6 in.) and their perceptions of
design/device strengths and weaknesses were presented. Entering
was perceived as easier than exiting swimming pools using each
of the identified means of water access. There were significant
differences between ambulatory and non-ambulatory subjects in
the perceived difficulty of the designs and devices. Most of the
designs and devices were significantly easier to use by ambulatory
subjects than they were for non-ambulatory subjects. Only lifts
and transfer steps were easier for non-ambulatory subjects, although
non-ambulatory subjects who required assistance in transfers were
unable to use the transfer steps. Specific problems with each
of the designs and devices were reported.
Based on the findings of the review of literature
and three research studies, the following recommendations were
1.1. At least one accessible means of water entry/exit
shall be provided for each swimming pool and shall be located
on an accessible route.
1.2. Swimming pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall
shall provide at least two accessible means of water entry/exit
located on accessible routes.
1.3. When only one accessible means of water entry is provided,
it shall be a swimming pool lift, wet ramp, or zero depth entry.
1.4. When a second accessible means of water entry/exit is provided,
it shall be a transfer wall, transfer steps, movable floor, stairs,
swimming pool lift, wet ramp, or zero depth entry. Lifts, wet
ramps, and zero depth entry may not be used as a second accessible
means of water entry/exit if the same means is used as the first
accessible means of water entry/exit.
1.5. When a second accessible means of water entry/exit
is provided, it must be located so that in combination with the
first accessible means of water entry/exit to serve both ends
and sides of the pool.
When pool ramps are provide, they should meet the
2.1. Surface: The surface of pool ramps must be firm, stable,
and slip resistant.
2.2. Slope: The least possible slope should be used for a pool
ramp. The maximum slope of a pool ramp shall be 1:12.
2.3. The maximum rise for any run shall be 30 inches.
2.4. The minimum clear width of a pool ramp shall be 36 inches.
2.5. Landings: Level landings must be located at the bottom and
top of each ramp and each ramp run. At least one level landing
must be located between 24 inches and 30 inches below the stationary
water level. The landings must:
2.5.1. be at least as wide as the ramp run leading to it;
2.5.2. have a minimum length of 60 inches clear;
2.5.3. have a minimum of size of 60 inches by 60 inches if
the ramp changes direction.
2.6. Handrails: Handrails should be required on all ramps. Ramp
handrails should include the following:
2.6.1. Two handrails shall be provided and located 32 to 36 inches
2.6.2. In addition to a top handrail gripping surface mounted
at 34 inches to 38 inches above the ramp surface, a second handrail
should be mounted between 16 inches and 26 inches.
2.6.3. Handrails should not be required to extend beyond the
base of stairs or the base of a ramp where such would protrude
into a lane or otherwise programmable area.
2.6.4. Handrails must be affixed so as to not allow movement
in any direction.
2.6.5. Handrail diameter should be 1.25 inches to 1.5 inches.
2.6.6. If handrails are mounted adjacent to the pool wall,
the space between the wall and the handrail shall be 1.5 inches.
2.7. Aquatic chairs: Facilities that provide ramps
must also provide an aquatic chair that meets recommendations
12.1 to 12.5.
When provided, pool lifts should meet the following
3.1. Pool lifts shall facilitate unassisted operation.
Zero Depth Entry (Beach Entry)
3.2. Clear space: A minimum clear deck space of at least 60 x
56 inches to one side and to the front of the lift seat must be
provided. The space under the lift seat could be included as part
of the clear space as long as the area is unobstructed.
3.3. Seat location: In the raised position the lift seat edge
used for transfers must be located over the pool deck at least
12 inches inside the deck edge.
3.4. Seat height: Lift seats should be located 17 inches from
the deck to the top of the seat surface.
3.5. Seat width: The lift seat width should be a minimum of 19
3.6. Footrest: A footrest should be attached to the lift seat.
3.7. Armrests should be located on both sides of the lift seat.
The armrest located next to the clear deck space should be capable
of moving away from the transfer area.
3.8. Controls and operating mechanisms: Controls and operating
mechanisms at both the deck level and water level positions should
be operable from the front edge of the lift seat and unobstructed
by any other component of the lift. Controls and operating mechanisms
shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping,
pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate
controls shall be no greater than 5 lbf (22.2 N).
3.9. Lifts shall be operable from both the deck level and water
3.10. Vertical travel: The vertical travel of the lift should
allow the lift seat to be submerged 18 inches to 20 inches below
the water level.
3.11. Minimum lifting capacity: A minimum weight
of 300 lbs. is required for all single person lifts. The lift
should also be capable of sustaining a static load of at least
three times the rated load.
When zero depth entry is provided it should meet
the following specifications:
4.1. Surface: The surface shall be firm, stable and slip resistant.
4.2. Slope: Zero depth entry pools are typically designed with
very slight slopes. The maximum slope of a zero depth entry should
not exceed 1:12 continuing to a minimum depth of 30 inches. For
pools less than 30 inches deep, the slope should continue to the
depth of the pool. Whenever the slope exceeds 1:20, it shall be
considered a ramp and all recommendations for a ramp would apply.
4.3. Vertical rise: Whenever a zero depth entry slope exceeds
1:20, a maximum rise for any run should be 30 inches.
4.4. Landings: For zero depth entry slopes that exceed 1:20,
at least one level landing must be located between 24 inches and
30 inches below the stationary water level. The landings must
have a minimum length of 60 inches and a minimum width of 36 inches.
4.5. Handrails: Whenever the slope of a zero depth entry exceeds
1:20, two handrails should be required 36 inches apart.
4.6. Whenever the slope of a zero depth entry exceeds 1:20, handrails
shall have a top handrail gripping surface mounted at 34 inches
to 38 inches and a second handrail mounted between 16 inches and
4.7. Handrails must be affixed so as to not allow movement in
4.8. Aquatic chairs: Facilities that provide zero
depth entry must provide an aquatic chair that meets recommendations
12.1 to 12.5.
When a transfer wall is provided, it should meet
the following specifications:
5.1. Clear deck space: Clear deck space of 60 inches by 60 inches
should be required at the transfer wall.
5.2. Wall height: The wall height should be 17 inches above the
5.3. Wall depth: The transfer wall should be 12 inches to 15
5.4. Wall surface: The transfer wall surface must be non-abrasive
and without any sharp edges.
5.5. Handrails: A minimum of one handrail should be located perpendicular
to the pool wall, 4 to 6 inches above the transfer wall and with
a minimum of 22 inches clearance on either side of the handrail.
5.6. Dry ramp: If a dry ramp is used to achieve
the transfer wall, all of the requirements of ADAAG 4.8.5 will
apply to the ramp.
When a movable floor is provided, it should meet
the following specifications:
6.1. Pool coping: Changes in level in the pool coping should be
no greater than one-half inch and be beveled with a slope no greater
6.2. Aquatic chairs: Facilities that provide a movable
floor as an accessible means of water entry/exit shall provide
an aquatic chair that meets recommendations 12.1 to 12.5.
When provided, transfer steps should meet the following
7.1. Clear deck space: Clear deck space of 60 by 60 inches should
be required adjacent to the surface of the transfer steps.
7.2. Transfer surface: The transfer surface of the highest step
should be 17 inches above the pool deck.
7.3. Surface: The surfaces should be firm, have no sharp edges,
and should not be abrasive in texture.
7.4. Step risers: The risers of transfer steps should be 5 to
7 inches in height. The last step in the water should be at least
18 inches below the water surface.
7.5. Step surface: Transfer steps should have a minimum of 12
inches of tread depth and a minimum of 22 inches tread width.
7.6. Handrails: One handrail should be provided at the side of
the transfer step opposite the clear deck space. The handrail
should be between 4 inches and 6 inches above the step surface.
7.7. Handrail diameter should be 1.25 inches to
If stairs are provided as an accessible means of
water entry/exit, they should meet the following specifications:
8.1. Surface: The surface of pool stairs must be firm, stable,
and slip resistant.
8.2. The minimum clear width of pool stairs shall be 36 inches.
8.3. All steps shall have uniform riser heights and uniform tread
widths. Stair treads shall be no less than 11 inches wide.
8.4. Two handrails shall be provided and located 32 to 36 inches
8.5. In addition to a top handrail gripping surface mounted at
34 inches to 38 inches above the ramp surface, a second handrail
should be mounted between 16 inches and 26 inches.
8.6. Handrails should not be required to extend beyond the base
of stairs or the base of a ramp where such would protrude into
a lane or otherwise programmable area.
8.7. Handrails must be affixed so as to not allow movement in
8.8. Handrail diameter should be 1.25 inches to 1.5 inches.
8.9. If handrails are mounted adjacent to the pool
wall, the space between the wall and the handrail shall be 1.5
9.1. A minimum of one accessible means of water
entry/exit shall be provided for each wading pool and shall be
located on an accessible route.
9.2. An accessible means of water entry to wading
pools shall be one of the following: transfer wall, transfer steps,
pool lift, a wet ramp, or a zero depth entry, provided the means
of entry/exit meets each of the recommendations for that means
10.1. A minimum of one accessible means of water
entry/exit shall be provided for each spa and shall be located
on an accessible route.
Removable Designs & Devices
10.2. An accessible means of water entry to spas shall be one
of the following: transfer wall, transfer steps, or lift, provided
the means of entry/exit meets all recommendations that apply to
the selected means of entry/exit.
10.3 An accessible spa that is unattended shall have a means
of emergency notification that is adjacent to the accessible means
of egress, within reach of someone seated in the spa, and operable
at all times.
10.4. Controls and operating mechanisms shall be
operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching,
or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate controls
shall be no greater than 5 lbs (22.2 N).
11.1. A removable device must remain in place until
all users of the device have exited the pool tank.
11.2. Removable devices shall be on-site, readily available,
maintained and operable at all times. Whenever possible, removable
devices should be in place.
11.3. Signage: Whenever devices are removable and
not in place at all times, signs must be posted to instruct users
as to how the designs/devices can be requested.
12.1. Whenever a ramp, zero depth entry, or movable
floor is used as an accessible means of water entry/exit, an aquatic
chair with push rims must be provided.
12.2. At least one aquatic chair with a top surface of the seat
at 17 inches above the deck shall be provided.
12.3. Seat width: The aquatic chair seat width should be a minimum
of 19 inches wide.
12.4. Footrest: Footrests should be provided on the aquatic chair.
12.5. Armrests should be located on both sides of the aquatic
chair seat. At least one armrest should be capable of moving away
from the side of the chair.
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