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Making Your Pool Accessible

A guide to accessibility aids

PAL Flyer 2009

By John Caden

A backyard swimming pool adds to the beauty of any home, whether it is used for lap swimming, as an aquatic playground for kids or just for cooling off on a hot summer’s day. In fact, a pool can be the focal point of your family’s outdoor activities.

However, the backyard pool takes on a much more vital role when a family member has physical challenges. There is no better therapeutic medium than water. Whether a person is challenged by age or infirmity, water creates buoyancy that relieves pressure on joints. It also provides resistance for aerobic exercise and can be safer than exercising on land, as the fear of falling is eliminated. The only obstacle your loved ones may have to overcome before being able to take advantage of these benefits is how to actually get in and out of the pool itself.

The good news is societies around the world have come to realize the benefits of aquatic exercise and the importance of providing access to public swimming facilities, especially for people with physical challenges. As a result, a variety of equipment has been designed to facilitate access into public swimming pools, opening the door to similar accessibility aids in residential settings. By using these technologies, you can make your backyard pool truly accessible for every member of your family.

Clearing a path

The first step in providing accessibility to your backyard pool is ensuring you have created a barrier-free pathway for those using it. This process begins inside the house.

Be sure the doors leading to the backyard or pool area are wide enough to allow safe passage, not only for wheelchairs and other mobility devices, but also for a family member who may use a walker.

Replace any steps with ramps and remove any rough or uneven surfaces to prevent tripping. Ideally, your pool deck should be smooth, to allow wheelchairs or other mobility devices to roll easily. Also, make sure the deck has ample space to allow for transferring from the wheelchair.

Getting into the pool

There are a number of poolside options that can make entry to and exit from the pool much easier. There are five primary devices that serve this purpose: swimming pool lifts, sloped entries or ramps, transfer walls, transfer systems and accessible pool stairs.

Swimming pool lifts

These are mechanical devices used to transfer a bather into and out of the water, powered by water pressure, hydraulics or batteries. Water pressure and battery-powered lifts can be self-operable (i.e. the person using the device can control it themselves), while hydraulic lifts usually require a second person to operate it.

Pool lift seats can be either rigid or non-rigid slings. Sling seats are more cumbersome to use than rigid ones, as they tend to float in the water.

Battery-powered lifts can be permanently mounted, removable or completely portable. Portable lifts offer the most convenience from a logistics standpoint, as they require no installation and can easily be stored when not needed. However, they are also generally the most expensive option.

Hydraulic products, on the other hand, are typically the most affordable. Non-portable lifts will require placement of a mounting point (usually an anchor sleeve) into the pool deck. This setup will cost you a little more, so be sure to factor this additional expense into your budget when calculating the overall cost of a pool lift.

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