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ADA Regulations Update - Recreational Facilities

publication date: Jan 18, 2014
author/source: Dan Marcec

ADA Regulations Update - Recreational Facilities

One of the most impactful standards from the 2010 ADA regulations will concern pools and exercise facilities. Here's what you need to know.

Dan Marcec
As we outlined a few weeks ago, the impeding deadline of March 15, 2012 to comply with the 2010 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations will have a significant impact on hotel investments and operations. While many of the standards in place are either updates or revisions from the original 1990 guidelines, one of the key differences this time is that there haven't been recreational standards published before. Therefore, your hotel couldn't have been compliant in the past with the 2010 standards for those items, and that's why it's the issue that's going to affect hotels and resorts the most immediately, because you have to do something before March 15 if you haven't already.

Here's a list of the newly covered elements that will be affected at hotels and resorts:

  • Swimming pools, wading pools, and spas
  • Saunas and steam rooms
  • Exercise machines and equipment
  • Play areas
  • Fishing piers and platforms
  • Recreational boating facilities
  • Golf facilities
  • Amusement rides
  • Mini golf facilities
  • Shooting facilities
  • Team or player seating
  • Accessible route to bowling lanes
  • Accessible route to court sports facilities
In a webinar hosted by AH&LA, Minh N. Vu, partner in the Labor and Employment Department, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, overviewed some of the logistics behind the new standards to get into the specifics of some of the most common elements that will affect hotels, particularly the first three on this list - pools, spas and exercise rooms.

In addition to the fact that recreational standards have been outlined for the first time, which means there are no safe harbors or grandfather clauses, the 2010 set of standards also introduced another first. The Department of Justice (DOJ)  now has put a number on how much properties can be fined for violations, to the tune of $55,000 for the first fine and $110,000 for any subsequent fines.

While the deadlines and regulations seem pretty straightforward, don't be surprised if commercial property owners try to call the government's bluff. While you never know what kind of extensions you might be able to get, you have to ask yourself if it's worth the risk. If it ends up your deadlines will not be extended, you can expect it to be more expensive and more difficult it becomes to place an order, on top of the potential fines levied by the DOJ.

Pools & Spas

The basis for swimming pool and spa guidelines are all centered upon access, and the new standards dictate either purchasing a pool lift or renovating it completely:
  • Each swimming pool with less than 300 feet of wall requires   or sloped entry.
  • Each swimming pool with 300 feet or more of wall requires two accessible means of entry, one of which must be a pool lift or sloped entry.
  • Each wave action, leisure river, sand bottom, or other type of pool where entry is limited to one area requires one accessible means of entry.
Most hotels likely will opt for the pool lift, since it's a purchasable item that doesn't put the pool out of service for any length of time. However, the pool lift also has several specific requirements it needs to meet, which are detailed below with reference to sections in the ADA regulations where you can find more information:
  1. Seat height and width (Sections 1009.2.4 and 1009.2.5)
  2. Footrest (Section 1009.2.6)
  3. Armrest (Section 1009.2.6)
  4. Independently operable by user (Section 1009.2.7)
  5. Controls and operating mechanisms (Section 1009.2.7)
  6. Submerged depth (Section 1009.2.8)
  7. Lifting capacity (Section 1009.2.9)
  8. Various other space requirements relating to location of installation (Sections 1009.2.1 through 1009.2.3)
"If you decide to install a pool lift, which is the most flexible option, you have to be sure to evaluate all these options," says Vu. "Don't just order it before seeing it in person. The literature provided by pool lifts doesn't always address all these aspects." 

For spas (in this case, whirlpools) and wading pools, the standards are similar. If a property has one spa, obviously it must be accessible, and if there is more than one, 5 percent of the total must be accessible. Furthermore, at a resort property for example, if there is more than one cluster of whirlpools, 5 percent of each cluster must be accessible. Accessibility for a spa is defined by a lift, a transfer wall or a transfer system.

"In new construction, a transfer wall is probably the most practical option, but existing properties will find that challenging," says Vu. "Lifts seem the most likely installation for retrofits."

Each wading pool must provide at least one sloped entry into the deepest area. However, Vu says this may not be "readily achievable" based on the traditional size of a small wading pool compared to the proportions the standards require. (see our previous piece on ADA regulations, linked above,  for more details on what is "readily achievable.")

While the guidelines are clearly laid out, the new requirements have left unanswered questions. For example, AH&LA submitted a letter to request clarification on whether you can have a portable pool lift and whether it has to be all the time or only brought out on request. While there is no requirements saying a lift has to be screwed down to the deck, and a good one will function just like one that's stationary, the question remains how quickly a portable unit would have to be provided if requested.

"If a person has to wait what could be conceived as an unreasonable amount of time to gain access to a good or service by a public accommodation disproportionate to a regular wait, it's disparate treatment," says Vu. "Therefore, I think every hotel has to ask itself  if the operation is capable of responding to a request to bring a pool lift in a ‘timely' way? If the answer is no, it's probably not practical to have a portable lift."

Also, the regulations actually say that there must be one lift for each body of water. That means if your hot tub and pool are separate, you're on the hook for two lifts, and perhaps two fines if both are not accessible.

Exercise Rooms

Fortunately, unlike the pool access standards, exercise rooms for most properties likely won't cost much - or anything - other than some time and effort to rearrange what you have and perhaps the inconvenience of losing a piece or two.

The new rules dictate that at least one of each type of exercise equipment must provide a 30" x 48" clear floor space positioned for transfer by someone using a wheelchair, in addition to being on a 36" wide accessible route.

"Originally, we were concerned with space requirements, because positioning them as proposed means you couldn't put ellipticals and treadmills close to save space, as is traditional in small hotel exercise rooms," says Vu. "However,  the DOJ came back with helpful clarification that said for machines on which you have to stand up, you can put the clear floor space in the pathway route, which will allow people to keep most of their equipment."

All these issues considered, it's important to plan for the inevitable, a compliance date of March 15, 2012 for the new ADA standards. While there certainly are legitimate reasons why some hotels could receive leeway, in general these regulations will be enforced and you need to be ready. Hotel Interactive will continue to detail this information for you and include responses to your questions, so stay tuned to our coverage in the coming months.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

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