Accessible Swimming Pools: It’s not Just About Swimming
Posted on April 20, 2012 by Amanda Beals
Congress is currently considering two bills (H.R. 4200 and H.R. 4256) which will prevent the Department of Justice from enforcing regulations for the accessibility of public pools as required by the ADA.
The issue of accessibility of public pools is a personal issue for me. I grew up in a family where I had multiple family members who had a disability. One thing I realized very quickly is that people with disabilities do not have the same opportunity to interact with or socialize with their peers as people who do not have a disability. This is especially true for children and young adults.
In my family, my brother uses a wheelchair. At my school, our playground was not accessible. This meant that he spent every day at recess sitting on the sidewalk by himself watching his classmates play. When boys in his class threw birthday parties, a majority of the most popular party places were not accessible to people who use a wheelchair. This meant he was almost NEVER invited to birthday parties where he could hang out with boys in his class. And of course, what is one of the most popular places to have a birthday party? The neighborhood swimming pool. I remember specifically a party that every single person in my brother’s class was invited to at the swimming pool except for him. I’m sure he was not invited because the pool wasn’t accessible and the people in charge of the party assumed that people with disabilities don’t swim. Apparently, it’s better to avoid and ignore this awkward situation than to try to make this event accessible to everyone. What a great message to be teaching our children (please forgive my sarcasm).
When we choose to exempt places like swimming pools from the ADA, we are not only excluding people with disabilities from having fun, it’s deeper than that. For children and young adults, play time and leisure activities are the major way we learn how to build relationships, socialize, and interact effectively in our community. When we exclude people from these activities, we are taking away their opportunity to learn and develop these skills. The ability to do these things well will affect that person for the rest of their life, whether they are searching for a job, trying to get into schools, or looking for a significant other to spend the rest of their lives with.
By exempting swimming pools from the ADA, we are socializing all of our children to accept the segregation of those who are “different” than us. This is not acceptable. Children should be learning how to interact with diverse people and the value of treating everyone with dignity and respect. Excluding swimming pools from the ADA teaches our next generation exactly the opposite lesson and is a great disservice to us all.
People with disabilities deserve the same opportunity to live an independent and fulfilling life as everyone else. To achieve this, we need to make sure that people have access to all parts of our community by supporting the ADA and the Civil Rights of all people. Exempting swimming pools from the ADA is a step in the wrong direction.