Aquatic Chairs and Other Equipment as Auxiliary Aids
The Accessibility Guidelines for Recreation Facilities (September 2002) only really address the built or structural environment. The Access Board frequently uses the analogy that if you were to take a building, or in this case an aquatic facility, turn it upside down, and shake everything out, the areas that were "fixed" or remaining in place, would be covered under ADAAG and the new Accessibility Guidelines for Recreation Facilities. Thus, features like the stairs, pool lift, ramp, zero depth entry, and transfer tier on the accessible route would remain in tact and therefore be required to follow the new guidelines. However, some other non-fixed equipment might fall out on that shake-out, and as such, the provision of aquatic equipment to facilitate access is somewhat of a gray area.
Both Title II and Title III of the ADA require facility owners and operators to acquire auxiliary aids and equipment to ensure access. Under the "program accessibility" provision of Title II "a public entity shall operate each service, program, or activity so that the service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities." According to the U.S. Department of Justice, "nonstructural methods include acquisition or redesign of equipment, assignment of aides to beneficiaries, and provision of services at alternate accessible sites." Under Title III, "a public accommodation is required to provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to ensure equal access to the goods, services, facilities, privileges, or accommodations that it offers, unless an undue burden or a fundamental alteration would result." By DOJ guidance, it would be appropriate in many cases for a facility to acquire equipment that can improve access for people with disabilities. Specifically, this may include the acquisition of aquatic wheelchairs and perhaps some floatation devices.
Aquatic wheelchairs are commonly fabricated from plastic or PVC pipe and are provided so a person needing an assistive device can avoid the damage water, chlorine and other pool chemicals would inflict on their own personal metal wheelchair. The provision of aquatic wheelchairs enables a person with a mobility impairment to shower before swimming, to experience a splash park, or to utilize a sloped entry into a swimming pool. As the user descends into the pool, the user's body becomes buoyant and the user will leave the aquatic wheelchair to swim.
Floatation devices are used for buoyancy and stability and make the user feel more comfortable in the water. Common flotation devices include kick boards, platforms, arm rings, and life vests. The provision of assistive devices requires additional staff training and policy-making. Staff need to know how to use each device and keep it in proper working condition. Policies for reserving devices and storing aquatic wheelchairs while the user is swimming must be clearly developed to avoid potential use conflicts and safety concerns.