The latest accessibility battle is taking place over the right of people with disabilities to swim in hotel swimming pools. Disability activists are critical of the hotel industry’s slow response to new ADA regulations, which are almost two years old. As the January deadline looms, it’s unclear if hotels will install the required pool lifts or continue to drag their feet and risk legal action.
Marca Bristo, CEO of Access Living in Chicago, has spent most of her life without easy pool access. When her children were young, she was able to be with them in the pool only a handful of times. The difficulty of getting in and out of the pool weighed heavily on her. “I just remember my kids at various times really wanting me to be in the pool with them and me not being able to be there,” Bristo says.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association says it is open to the use of portable lifts, but Bristo says permanent fixed lifts are a better solution. She says the cost of portable and fixed lifts is comparable, and a fixed lift is safer. It also concerns her that a portable lift will be stored away and discourage access. “The average person … [will] decide not to swim when they don’t see a lift,” Bristo says.
According to a 2002 Harris poll, people with disabilities spend $4.2 billion on hotels annually. The lodging industry is resisting a relatively small and affordable accommodation, which would not only improve the lives of its disabled customers but could also attract a larger clientele.
The demand for pool access is likely to grow as the baby boomer generation continues to age and has more leisure time. Demanding better access and holding this country’s hotel industry accountable is a right guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.