Pools increase access for all

McHENRY – Sweltering heat surely will draw more visitors to Knox Park Pool this summer, but so will a new handicap-accessible feature.

McHenry’s Parks and Recreation Department installed a chairlift at the pool at 201 St. Green St. during the offseason and it has been ready for swimmers with physical disabilities since the pool opened May 26.

“It’s right on the edge, in the shallow end,” said Cindy Witt, superintendent of recreation. “It’s for people with difficulty getting in and out of the pool.”

The $6,000 lift, covered through the city’s general fund, was in response to revisions under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The 2010 update specified accessibility requirements for public recreational facilities, including swimming pools. The U.S. Department of Justice also set out similar accessibility guidelines for “places of public accommodations,”
such as hotels, country clubs, gyms and other businesses that operate pools.

Compliance with accessibility requirements was extended to Jan. 31, 2013, in light of concerns, questions and other feedback from public and private pool operators. The ADA accessibility standards involve technical specifications on the location, seat size, weight capacity and floor space of a pool’s chairlift.

The updated regulations help bring the country “one step closer” to equal recreation access for individuals with disabilities, said Maribeth Hutchison, superintendent of program operations for the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association. It provides recreational programs for people with disabilities and is a resource for local park districts and communities to improve recreational opportunities.

Whether a small pool – with less than 300 linear feet of wall – has a sloped entry or a chairlift depends on the pool’s structure and conditions. A sloped entry may require tearing down a section of the pool and expanding the wall space, a costly alteration. So a chairlift can be the most viable option for many communities from a financial and operational standpoint, Hutchison said.

The village of Algonquin opted for a portable $6,100 chairlift purchased out of its pool fund, said Mike Kumbera, assistant to the village manager. The chairlift debuted this summer as another way to enhance accessibility even though the pool already has a sloped entry, he said.

In Marengo, the McHenry County Department of Public Health is scheduled to approve the installation of the park district’s pool chairlift in a week, said Heather Shepard, business director. The park district purchased the $5,130 chairlift using its special recreation funds, she said.

The park district’s pool already features two handicap-accessible stone tables and a sun umbrella shading one of the tables. The Marengo Park District is seeking donations from the public to purchase another sun umbrella for the other handicap-accessible table, Shepard said.

“To me, if you’re going to put in a chairlift for people (with disabilities) to use it, we should make sure it’s a user-friendly pool for them all the way around. Not just, ‘Hey we have a chairlift.’ ”

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