|By Blake Jones, The Post-Star, Glens
Falls, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 12,2012--One extension has already been issued and the lodging industry is calling for another as the deadline to outfit public swimming pools with handicapped-accessible lifts approaches later this month.
Enforcement of new U.S. Department of Justice rules requiring public pool operators to install lifts or ramps is slated to take effect May 21. But many hotels and recreation centers are asking for more time and flexibility in meeting the rules.
The regulations were implemented in 2010 as part of changes to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Enforcement was to begin March 15, but due to outcry over a late-January clarification that portable lifts would not suffice, the deadline was postponed two months.
Industry leaders and hoteliers say they support improved accessibility but worry about the safety hazards and expense of fixed lifts over portable lifts. What's more, they claim there are not enough lifts available to meet demand.
More than 100,000 lifts are needed nationwide, said Kevin Maher, senior vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a national hotel trade group.
"The biggest concern is that it's a liability risk to put a fixed lift on a pool deck when most hotels don't have lifeguards," Maher said, adding that children could get hurt playing on them.
The association is calling for more time to comply and more flexibility in meeting the requirement.
Legislation is pending that would give hotels another year and allow portable lifts instead of permanent fixtures. The portable lifts aren't necessarily cheaper, but they don't require construction, and one could serve multiple pools. Construction can add $5,000 to $10,000 on top of $2,000 to $9,000 for the lift itself, according to the hotel and lodging association.
But advocates for the disabled argue hotels have had plenty of time to comply since the changes were announced in 2010. They also say portable lifts don't offer the independence or safety of fixed lifts.
Locally, the Ramada in Queensbury spent $4,000 to buy a portable lift before the original March 15 deadline.
Manager Chris Harrington said the equipment is heavier than he expected and takes two people to install, which could be an issue if it's requested when staffing is limited. It has yet to be used, though, and Harrington worries a fixed lift would be used inappropriately by kids.
"I don't think either one is perfect, but my vote would be against a permanent one because it's asking for trouble," he said.
Should the current ruling stand, he believes the portable lift can be affixed permanently.
While some properties rushed to meet the March deadline, many more are in a wait-and-see mode as the call for another extension plays out in Washington.
The Marine Village in Lake George and sister properties that include the Sun Castle Resort, Lyn Aire Motel and The Inn at Erlowest were waiting for more clarity before making changes to their pools.
Larger hotels such as The Sagamore resort in Bolton, the Holiday Inn Turf in Lake George and the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center have all placed orders but were also holding off on installation as of late last week.
"We're waiting like everybody on the extension that took place," said Michael Spilman, general manager of the Holiday Inn, which has two pools and a hot tub. "There is some reason to believe there may be another extension."
At Fort William Henry, Vice President Sam Luciano said the hotel is poised and ready to buy fixed lifts if necessary, but a portable lift would be safer and more cost-effective.
"The smarter thing would be a portable (lift) with a certified staff member who is trained to operate it," he said. "It's a liability with kids playing on (fixed lifts)."
Michael Consuelo, executive director of the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the expense could be onerous for smaller motels, many of which have not yet opened for the season in Lake George.
Campgrounds, too, are concerned.
The Campground Owners of New York conducted a survey on lifts and found that 93 percent of campground owners fear injuries from unintended use by children. About 85 percent expect lifts to be legitimately used once a year or not at all.
The American Association of People with Disabilities, however, says portable lifts miss the mark, as accessibility means being able to use the pool independently.
"If that lift is somewhere off in the closest, you have to go call a staff member and have them come and install it," said association spokeswoman Lara Schwartz. "That is certainly not the same service people are getting who can go right in the pool."
She added that transportation and repeated installation of portable lifts compromises their stability.
Schwartz said it's understood that some older facilities can't reasonably comply with ADA requirements, but to backtrack on disability legislation already in place would be unprecedented.
"This would be the first time that Congress has gone so far as to limit this law," she said of proposals to reverse Americans With Disabilities Act pool requirements. "That would be extraordinary."
(c)2012 The Post Star (Glens Falls, N.Y.)
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