Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) persons with disabilities must be provided equal access and opportunity to use all of your facility. In the aquatic arena, besides providing the necessary physical accommodations like ramps and hydro-lifts, your aquatic staff must also be prepared both to assist the special needs patrons in normal activities and to respond appropriately in case of an emergency.
There are numerous types of disabilities; each may require that your staff act differently in order to meet the needs of the specific individual. Staff must be aware of those who are known to have disabilities. Each person should be asked about their specific needs with regard to the aquatic facility and that information should be shared with the rest of the staff to ensure that the patron is consistently assisted in a supportive and professional manner. Common challenges are generally classed in the following three areas.
Because of the support afforded by water, many people whose disability impairs mobility on land can function independently in an aquatic environment. Water provides a unique opportunity for development of physical and motor fitness. Buoyancy, strength, agility, and flexibility limitations are reduced in the water but there may not be a corresponding increase in control.
The physical skill levels of people with these challenges can range from highly impaired to unimpaired. These patrons may have the size and/or appearance of adults but generally they are incapable of consistently functioning as such. Enforcement of the rules may be challenging but exceptions should not be given so that the safety of the person and other swimmers is not compromised.
Understanding the rules and swimming competently may be within the capabilities of people with communications challenges but they may have difficulty in understanding a lifeguard’s instructions or in expressing questions or concerns to the staff.
In general, lifeguards need to:
The aquatic staff must remember that those with disabilities are people first – people who should be treated with the same level of respect and dignity that would be afforded to any member. When you look at a person with a disability focus on the person and what they can do rather than what they cannot.