|By Juliane Bullard, Star-News,
Wilmington, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 05, 2013--Anne Brodsky was a social worker and special education teacher for 25 years before she decided to go into business with one of her friends, Ea Ruth, and buy Palm Air Cottages in Kure Beach. The small business houses seven cottages and one 25-year-old pool -- a pool that now could be a major liability.
A new federal regulation that came into force at the end of January requires motels and businesses with pool access to make at least one of their pools accessible to handicapped swimmers.
Although businesses are only required to install a lift if it is "readily achievable," some small business owners are worried what the requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will do to business when larger hotels are more easily able to meet the regulation.
Brodsky worries that her previously sought-after cottages by people with disabilities, who rented them because of the ground-floor access and handicap-equip showers and restrooms, are now going to favor hotel chains that can afford the chair lifts, which can cost up to $5,000 each and another $1,000 to install.
"It's almost not worth it to have a pool," Brodsky said. "We have one of the cleanest on the island but it's a small pool and the establishment, while well kept, is old. We don't have the money to keep up with every regulation."
The ADA adopted this new regulation with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Designs, which required a pool wheelchair lift for the first time. The lift could be permanent or mobile, based on the financial restraints of the establishment.
While commercial hotels in the area, like the Holiday Inn Resort Wrightsville Beach and the Hilton Wilmington Riverside, are more easily able to comply with the regulation, smaller establishments worry difficulty in meeting the requirement could potentially open them up to hefty fines from the U.S. Department of Justice and lawsuits from advocacy groups.
The Wilmington Disability Resource Center has no plans for such action, but they do encourage the installment of the chair lifts.
"I know this has been going on for a while, they have pushed back the dates of compliance a couple of times but I think it's a great thing for businesses to do for the disabled community," said Frank Roberts, the center's president.
The requirement was initially supposed to become effective March 2012, but was pushed back several times to give businesses more time. In granting the extension until Jan. 31, the government also mandated that establishments that can afford it have to install a permanent chair lift rather than having the cheaper option of a mobile lift.
However, meeting either requirement can be pricey.
"The minimum cost of that for us would be $5,000," Brodsky said. "I was a special-education teacher and social worker for 25 years and while I think what they're trying to accomplish is great, our small business, like many others, can't sustain the financial burden."
For nine years Palm Air has donated a week's stay to the winner of the Cape Fear Disabled Sportsman's Fishing tournament and, according to Brodsky, are able to fully accommodate their guests with special needs.
Keith Blevins, last year's winner from Conover, N.C., echoed the sentiment.
"I have reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, I've had both hips replaced, I have degenerative disk disease, chronic pain syndrome and I don't walk. Sometimes I'm on crutches but I'm mostly in the chair," he said. "The nice thing about their (Palm Air's) setup is that it is almost the exact same setup as my house, they have a lot of ramps for me to get around easy."
Blevins said that even without a pool chair lift, he would still visit the Kure Beach resort.
"I'm looking forward to getting my hiney down there so I can see the beach," Blevins said.
When the Department of Justice starts investigating the chair lift requirements, one of the main issues they'll be determining -- according to the ADA website -- will be whether installing a chair is "readily achievable." This will be based on "factors such as the nature and cost of the needed action; all the financial, staff and other resources available to the business and any parent entity; and the impact on the operation of the site, including legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation."
However, what those specific financial resources may be will be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to the ADA.
For small business owners like Brodsky and Ruth, that could be a vital distinction.
"We might have to close down our pool, and for a tourist-driven town like Kure Beach, that could mean shutting down our business," Brodsky said.
Juliane Bullard: 343-2023
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