How to facilitate access to public pools for the disabled?

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Are swimming pools truly a place of leisure for all? Getting disabled people into the water has been a headache for pool sector for a long time but many innovations exist today to enable everyone to benefit from pools. Accessibility is nevertheless a major challenge for public pool operators. Where do you start when you want to adapt your pool? We asked Yoann Chouraqui, director of Hexagone Manufacture, the number 1 French company in pool access for the disabled (who we had already met at Piscine Global Europe 2016) to explain.


Piscine Global Europe: Mr. Chouraqui, what does disabled imply?  

yoann-chouraqui.jpgYoann Chouraqui: Many wrongly believe that the term “disabled” only concerns people in wheelchairs. In fact it applies to everyone who cannot move around freely in their daily life, either temporarily or permanently. The group includes the elderly who have walking difficulty and pregnant women, for example.

How does water benefit the disabled?  

Pools are magic because they free the disabled from the weight of their bodies which they drag around with them everywhere they go. In water, they can execute movements they cannot normally perform. So pools are important not just from a psychological point of view, but also from a physical point of view, to use muscles which are otherwise very little or never flexed. It is also a vector of social links as the disabled can share quality time with their families and friends.

What laws apply to pool access for the disabled?

Current laws are based on two observations: the handicapped have difficulty in accessing public authority services and the world population is aging. This is why it is vital to improve accessibility and host everyone as well as possible. This involves working on the pool access circuit disabled users take and also on getting them into the water.

United States law is drastic and says that the disabled must be able to get into the water on their own. Moreover, this law applies to all bathing spaces, even if they are all located in the same public pool. 

In France, under the law for the equality of rights, opportunities, participation and citizenship of the handicapped, all public pools must enable disabled access. All existing public pools have until 2020 to comply with the law.

European law stipulates that accessibility must be included in all new projects, but not all the countries have an obligation to ensure existing swimming pools comply with standards by 2020.

Are you about to renovate to ensure your pool meets the standards? 
Here are some hints on how to inform the public about your renovation work!

What equipment exists for getting people with reduced mobility into the water?

There are two main categories: mobile and fixed equipment

Mobile equipment is often used in pools hosting few disabled or which have several separate bathing spaces. Equipment can range from a simple amphibious wheelchair which enters the water down a ramp up to a big jack-powered carriage worked by the user or an operator. Lifts can be manually operated or connected to mains electricity or batteries.

Fixed equipment facilitates user-operated water entry and can be fitted with more comfortable soft cushions, for quadriplegics for example.

What infrastructures do public pools need to facilitate disabled access? 

Pools have to simplify access along the circuit disabled users take. Car parks must be close to the entrance and easy to reach, changing rooms must be sufficiently big and fitted with emergency alarms, showers and toilets must be adapted to enable safe use by clients in wheelchairs… Every element of the “classic” visitor circuit must be examined in great detail to ensure it can be used by the disabled. And that’s not all! You have to rethink signs and integrate loudspeakers sufficiently audible by the deaf and tactile signs for the visually impaired and blind. A huge but necessary task.

Further reading: Choosing the right safety equipment for you public pool

Do pools have to give staff special training?

Staff should be given additional training, but this is not mandatory. When Hexagone Manufacture installs equipment at a public pool enabling the disabled to get into the water, we train the teams in its use and in how to host users in the best possible way. 

What criteria should public pools study before buying fixed or mobile equipment?

It is essential to know what the equipment will be used for, because there is little difference in price between a fixed and a mobile installation.

For pools only hosting the disabled occasionally there is no point in acquiring battery-powered equipment: the battery is likely to be forgotten and will be flat when the need arises – but pools organizing classes for people with reduced mobility every two days may find powered units beneficial.

As for choosing between a fixed or mobile installation, it is usage which dictates which is better. Are the disabled always put into the water at the same place? If there are several bathing spaces, a mobile installation is probably preferable. Fixed equipment allows users to get into the water on their own but will require anchor points which could affect pool watertightness. 

The looks of the equipment can also be a crucial factor. In the hotel pool sector, it can be a drawback if the equipment cannot be stored easily when not in use.

Some tips for improving swimming pool access and activities for the handicapped

The pool sector has mobilized to create innovations meeting the challenges of public pool accessibility and it is impossible not to find the right solution. Are you looking for the latest innovations on this topic? Come to the Commercial Pools Village at the next Piscine Global Europe!

Find out more about Yoann Chouraqui in this video interview of Piscine Global Europe 2016!

Photo credit: © KikoStock /

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