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Jewish Journal

Let My People Swim

by Michelle K. Wolf

April 6, 2012 | 1:32 pm

For people with physical disabilities, and especially for those who use walkers and wheelchairs, the whole concept of “freedom” is closely connected to the ability to access wherever one wishes to go. Before President Bush signed the American Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990, no federal law prohibited private sector discrimination against people with disabilities and there was no legal mandate to provide for “public accommodations”. People with disabilities were routinely unable to enter many government buildings, houses of worships and even many hotels.

Since its passage, doors literally opened up, and now people with physical disabilities are able to work in office buildings, visit museums and travel by airplane.

One area that still needs more work is recreational activities, and there’s a specific new federal law pending from 2010 about making swimming pools, wading pools, and Jacuzzis accessible. Swim lessons and other aquatic programs at government-run programs will also need to be accessible. Pool operators have had two years to make changes, and the new law was supposed to have been implemented as of March of this year, but has now been pushed to May 15.

This change is long overdue, as many public pools have either architectural barriers, or attitudinal barriers. I can recall many years ago taking Danny to a LA City-operated pool, and the lifeguard there forcing us to take off his water wings, saying that no “toys” of any kind weren’t allowed; she said she had never heard of the ADA being applied to pools. Since then, we’ve been taking Danny to the family-run Beverlywood Swim Center for twice-weekly lessons because they’ve been offering 1:1 swim lessons for kids and adults with special needs for many years. In fact, Danny, like many others with cerebral palsy, loves the gravity-free water environment, and the most challenging part is getting Danny to get out of the pool when he’s done.

Many hotels, however, just don’t want to spend the $3,000 to $5000 needed to make the necessary changes (keep in mind that the law only applies to newly constructed and altered pools). There are even rumors circulating that some hotels would rather close down their pools rather then make them accessible.

Under the proposed law, large pools (more than 300 linear feet of pool wall) must have two accessible means of entry, with at least one being a pool lift or sloped entry; smaller pools are only required to have one accessible means of entry, provided that it is either a pool lift or a sloped entry. Wading pools need to have a sloped entry, which really helps the whole little kid demographic, not just those children with disabilities.

There are some tax credits available for hotels that make the changes through the Disabled Access Credit, plus all the costs are tax deductible. All in all, making the public and commercial pools available will benefit all, as universal access helps older folks and those with temporary injuries, as well as the disabled. It is time for the hotel industry to stop “lapping” behind and jump into the accessibility pool.

PS Join us at Nes Gadol and Jewish Life programs at Vista Del Mar for a 6th Night of Seder for families with children with autism and other special needs on Wednesday, April 11th from 5-7:30 pm at Vista Del Mar. $10 per person. RSVP to Naomi Salamon at 310 836-1223 ext 322 or email naomisalamon@vistadelmar.org

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