Some of you may have heard snippets on the news regarding Pool Lifts and a March deadline to have them installed in U.S. hotels. Back in 2010, an update to the Americans with Disabilities Act, basically said that new hotels and those with renovations after 2010 would be required to ensure that pools and spas would have to be accessible to all by March 15, 2012. I wrote about these changes, and many others that have occurred on that date, and you can read about them here.
As is customary with any legislation, it was vaguely written, trying to be business friendly, yet also meet the demands of an increasingly vocal disability community. There were provisions for the size of the pool, and the reasonable inability for a hotel to purchase a pool lift. Even more vague was the guidance on type of lift: fixed or portable. So, many hotels went out and purchased portable pool lifts, confident that they could share the lift between the pool and spa upon request of a guest with a disability. It was the most economical choice. Many other hotels, ordered fixed pool lifts for their primary pool. Still, many others were either a) confused by the legislation, b) chose to ignore it, or c) were cash strapped. Therefore, they didn’t do anything.
As the deadline began to loom, the Department of Justice further clarified the legislation in January 2012, just two months before the deadline. Hotels whose pool dimensions met the criteria and were required to have a pool lift were required to install a permanent fixture. They would also need to have one in every pool and spa on their property. They weren’t allowed to share a portable lift between the pool and hot tub, either. Well, you could imagine the response of the American Hospitality and Lodging Association (AHLA). They were not pleased by this late ruling and its supposedly burdensome approach to accessibility.
The AHLA started to push back on the ruling, with some hotels threatening to close their pools permanently, citing the costs associated with the permanent lifts, the potential dangers of children hurting themselves on the equipment in the absence of lifeguards, and the inability to obtain permanent pool lifts in time for the deadline. They contended that they wanted to serve the disability community, but that the Department of Justice waited until the eleventh hour to clarify the type of lift, and this would now put a strain on many hoteliers. That’s when news publications started to pick up on the controversy.
From there, the sparks started to fly. I read comments on inflammatory articles written by uninformed proponents on both sides of the coin. There were people commenting on these articles that didn’t even think that people with disabilities could swim. There were also supporters of the law that were jumping into the heated discussion. I watched the progression of comments and became frustrated at the lack of disability awareness and compassion. Of course, I jumped in with my two cents and was blasted, as well. Note to self: don’t get into virtual arguments on USA’s Today comment board. It will leave you unfulfilled with only a headache to show for it.
In the meantime, the Department of Justice extended the deadline to May 2012, and then to January 31, 2013. They also grandfathered portable lifts for the time being, as long as the hotel shows a plan to eventually put in a permanent lift, and they keep the portable lifts out during pool open hours. Hotels who cannot afford to put in a pool lift are twisting in the wind a bit. They are required to install a lift when it is “readily achievable” to do so. However, it does leave them open to lawsuits in the meantime. They may have to prove not only the lack of funds, but the plan to get one. However, they will have incurred legal costs in the meantime.
The American Association for Disabled Persons and other advocacy groups have stepped in. However, in their passion to bring awareness and enforcement of the Pool Lift Ruling, they started to call for sweeping boycotts of hotels that were members of the AHLA. These boycotts may have brought some awareness regarding the issue, but in some cases they chose hotels chains that, while members of the AHLA, actually had pool lifts before they were required. I know this because I had seen them. In fact, I had praised Kimpton’s Palomar Chicago for great accessibility, including a pool lift, more than a year before they were required. Kimpton was on the “bad” list for AAPD. AAPD and others have claimed that the AHLA is trying to deny people with disabilities their rights. I don’t know if I believe that completely. I believe that there is a balance, but both sides are passionate to defend their positions and say things to get media attention.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe that pools should be accessible to people of all abilities. I cannot count the number of hotel pools my daughter could not enjoy because I could no longer carry her into the water. We paid the full price for the hotel room, which includes the amenities, but we were denied access to some of them. However, I’m not sure I agree with the Department of Justice’s ruling on permanent lifts. My only expectation is that there is a working lift available to my daughter when she wants to use it, where she wants to use it. If that requires a phone call to the front desk before we head to the pool to have it set up, I think that’s ok. We don’t care if it is permanent or not, as long as we can operate it safely on our own.
I also believe that we should show our support of the law by spending our money in those hotels that have complied with the law and let the managers of the hotels know that we chose to stay there BECAUSE they had a pool lift. Maybe then, hoteliers will understand the value of our business.
What do you think? I’d love to have you sound off and tell us your thoughts!
Until then, safe travels!