Quick set up: Terre Haute Holiday Inn chief engineer Brian Rice demonstrates the deployment of the portable chair lift at the pool in Terre Haute Friday afternoon. The device is highly portable and can be set up in minutes. Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis
TERRE HAUTE — Changes to standards of the American with Disabilities Act is requiring owners and mangers of swimming pools and spas at hotels, public parks and recreation centers to install pool chair lifts by May 21.
The law doesn’t affect private clubs or pools owned by neighborhood associations that aren’t open to the public.
Directly affected are pools at Deming and Sheridan parks in Terre Haute.
However, city officials are banking on a provision in the federal law that gives more time to pools which demonstrate a financial hardship and have a plan to save up for the equipment.
“We have checked on this several times and just to make sure we are correct, we sent it through our legal department,” said Eddie Bird, superintendent of the Terre Haute Parks and Recreation.
Because the city parks department did not have the items budgeted, it does not have the money available for the equipment, Bird said.
“We have to cut our budget this year $300,000 and had to cut the budget last year by $800,000,” he said.
The price of the chairs, essentially mini cranes that lower disabled people into the water and lift them back out, range from nearly $4,000 to $10,000. The number of chairs is determined by the size of the pool. If a pool is more than 300 linear feet — such as the pool at Deming Park — then two means of access are required. A sloped entry ramp can be installed as a second means of access. However, such ramps require a lot of space and would likely only be viable in very large pools.
“We will budget that for 2013 and have those installed next year,” Bird said, adding the department will determine if two pool lift chairs or a chair and ramp will be used.
Because the Vigo County School Corp. has pools that can be used by the public, the school corporation is also investigating what must be done.
Franklin Fennell, director of facilities support and transportation for the Vigo County School Corp., said the school corporation has been working with pool vendors for chair lifts. “We will meet the requirements, but are just going over the appropriate options for our pools,” Fennell said.
Indiana State University already has the permanent pool chair lifts, as does the soon-to-be-open Vigo County YMCA, located at the former Riverscape Family and Fitness Center at Fairbanks Park.
The U.S. Department of Justice in July 2010 released updated standards, which required the pool lifts this year by March 16. Most hotels and other businesses that bought lifts interpreted the law to allow the use of portable lifts. However, in January the Department of Justice stated the lifts must be permanent.
The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals estimated manufacturers could only produce 2,500 pool lifts a month, which would be just 15 percent of the needed lifts. The Department of Justice then extended the installation date to May 21.
Now the federal government is again considering pushing back its deadline another six months.
The Department of Justice “to promote a clear and consistent application of the ADA requirements” sought public input through April 4 to consider extending that compliance date until Sept. 21.
Eric Reller of the American Hotel & Lodging Association said the association submitted comments to the federal agency supporting that extension, but also sought to reverse the ruling of permanent pool lifts in favor of portable lifts for hotel pools.
“The portable lift provides the same access,” Reller said. “It can be put off to the side when not in use and can be brought out. A Department of Justice study was conducted on this and found that a portable lift was up and ready to use within 5 minutes of it being requested.”
Reller said hotels would simply ask all guests as they check in if they would like a portable lift during their stay. “If the guest indicates that they would, we would have it set up so there is no inconvenience,” Reller said.
“We definitely want to provide the access. Guests with disabilities are very important to us and we want to provide accommodations to everyone,” Reller said. The safety concern of a fixed chair, Reller said, is it may pose a risk to children tempted to play on them and could increase insurance and risk of lawsuits.
Bill Berdine, general manager of Holiday Inn and Springhill Suites in Terre Haute, said he has portable pool lifts, which can be converted into permanent chair lifts. However, Berdine hopes the Department of Justice will reverse its ruling and allow the portable lifts.
“It started out to be portable and then had to be permanently mounted. We want it to be portable,” Berdine said. “That is really an issue. In all of the years that I have been in the hotel business, I have never had anyone ask me for a lift or a ramp to get into the pool.
“It will just set here,” he said of the pool lift. “If it is mounted at the pool, the kids will be jumping off the top of it. It doesn’t make sense to make it permanent at the pool,” Berdine said.
The big threat for non-compliance is from litigation of not having a chair. The Department of Justice will investigate complaints and can fine businesses up to $55,000 for the first offense and double that for further violations. Pools operated by local governments do not face monetary penalties but are subject to federal oversight.
Peter Ciancone, executive director of the WILL (Wabash Independent Living and Learning) Center in Terre Haute, said people and cities managing pools have had plenty of time to prepare for the pool chair lifts.
“They knew there had been a change in the standards and had 18 months to investigate this,” he said.
Ciancone said a discussion over portable versus permanent chair lifts misses the point — disabled people should be given equal access to a public facility.
“It is looking at the issue incorrectly. It is about accessibility and providing the same access to public facilities for everyone,” Ciancone said.
John McGovern, an attorney and president of the Illinois-based Recreation Accessibility Consultants LLC, which helps local governments and non-profit organizations comply with accessibility laws, said the “notion of permanent is not really being used properly.”
“When the Department of Justice is saying a permanent lift, they mean during the hours the pool is open a lift needs to be there and secured to the pool deck,” McGovern said. Many municipal pools, McGovern said, already have lifts that are brought out at the opening hour and then stored in a mechanical room at the end of the day.
In addition, McGovern said in his 36 years of working in recreation, he has never heard a first hand account of a child getting hurt on the pool chair equipment.
“Kids jump off of fences, so I see it as a general ‘Gee, let’s be concerned about it,’ but one of the key requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act is that you cannot make a decision based on what if,” he said. “You got to make the decision on the real record or objective data.
“If within the American Hotel & Lodging Association records there are 319 incidents of kids jumping off a pool lift and injuring themselves, then that is a different issue. But, I don’t believe that kind of a record exists within the hotel industry or the public parks and recreation industry at all,” McGovern said.