The Water's Fine: Accessible Pool Lifts

Tips on how to find and use an accessible hotel pool lift this summer

Article Highlights:
  • Thrive 365 is a new Quest section that will focus on health, wellness and independent living.
  • Authors Barbara and Jim Twardowski provide some tips on how to locate a hotel with an accessible pool lift — and how to use the pool lift — this summer
by Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN on July 7, 2014 - 9:15am

Quest Summer 2014
ADA-compliant pool chair lifts provide individuals with disabilities a safe way to enter and exit public pools.

Many vacationers are seeing something different at hotels this summer: pool and spa lifts. In compliance with last year’s deadline for recent revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design, most hotels, health clubs and other commercial properties catering to the public have finally addressed the problem of swimming pool, wading pool and spa access for people with disabilities. At most of these aquatic recreational facilities, the answer has been the inclusion of at least one fixed pool lift.

A lift, which is essentially an immersible chair affixed to a small crane that’s attached to the pool deck, allows people who are unable to use steps to easily enter and exit a pool.

The following tips offer a step-by-step guide to finding a hotel with an accessible pool as well as how to safely use a lift once on-site — so you and your family can enjoy a swim that’s stress-free on your next vacation. 

Selecting a hotel

Not every hotel has a pool, so when selecting a place to stay for your next vacation, begin by doing some research online. Hotel search engines, like and among others, include swimming pools on the long list of amenities you can check when accommodation hunting. Many hotel-brand websites also outline the amenities offered at their properties. users, for example, can peruse all of the company’s hotels for a specific destination that has either an indoor or outdoor pool.

But remember: Even if a hotel has a pool, it might not have a lift or otherwise satisfy the needs of a wheelchair user. With a bit of detective work, though, you can determine which hotels
meet those needs. Here’s how to get started: 

1. Call the hotel’s local telephone number — not the brand or chain’s toll-free reservation line but the actual property. Make the call during regular business hours on a weekday. Avoid calling in the evening or on weekends, when the hotel is staffed with part-time employees. 

2. Tell the hotel you use a wheelchair. Explain you have questions about the hotel’s accessibility features and would like to talk with someone about the swimming pool. Ask who would be the best person to assist you. Employees who should be able to discuss this topic include the hotel’s general manager, director of maintenance and concierge. 

Write down the name of the person with whom you speak and ask for his or her direct telephone number and email in case you have additional questions or need assistance when you check in. Tell this person you are looking forward to staying at the hotel and using the pool.

3. Get the pool access details. Ask if the pool has a lift. When making this inquiry, be prepared to describe a lift and explain what it does. And be patient — many hotel employees still may be unfamiliar with this adaptive equipment. 

Specific questions to ask include: Is the path to the pool accessible? Is it necessary to take steps or an elevator to reach the pool? Is there a door or gate to enter the pool? If so, what is the width and how does it open — with a room key or a latch? At the pool, is the lift portable or is it a permanent fixture? If portable, how do guests arrange for the lift to be poolside on their arrival day? What is the hotel’s protocol regarding the lift? Will an employee assist with the operation of the lift?

4. Assess the comfort and convenience factors of the pool. Find out what hours the pool is open. Many hotels close pools at 10 p.m. so nearby guests are not disturbed. 

Confirm whether the pool is indoors or outside and whether it is heated, and, if so, to what temperature. Some pools are only heated seasonally — ask if it will be operational during the dates of your stay. 

Also, water’s buoyancy makes exercising easier for those with muscle weakness, but if you plan on doing aquatics or even just walking, a shallow pool may not provide the support you need to stand. So confirm the depth ahead of time.

5. Follow up. Call the hotel 48 hours before your arrival and remind them you will be using the lift. This gives them ample opportunity to run a maintenance check and charge any battery-operated lifts. 

Operating the lift 

Pool lifts are designed to be independently operated. Simply transfer to the chair, push the directional button, and the chair will swing over the swimming pool and down into the water. ADA guidelines require pool lifts to have a footrest, a seat measuring at least 16 inches wide and the ability to support a minimum weight of 300 pounds. Some lifts may have armrests, a headrest or a seat belt; all are optional accessories. 

When using a lift, remember the following:

1. Lifts are designed by different manufacturers and do vary. One may have a concave seat while another is flat. Some move slightly faster than others, and some can sway a bit during the transfer process.

2. Before transferring to a lift, get comfortable with the controls. While still on the pool deck, if possible, completely submerge the empty lift and return it to the deck to determine that it is functioning properly. 

3. Make sure you have backup. Make sure to notify hotel staff before taking a dip in case the lift malfunctions. Also keep a cellphone poolside and have the hotel’s number preprogrammed. For those traveling with a companion or caregiver, enlist their assistance. Don’t attempt to use a pool lift alone. 

4. Express your approval. It’s been nearly 25 years since the ADA was created, but including hotel swimming pool lifts in the access guidelines only became law in January 2013. Today, the availability of pool lifts means hotel guests with disabilities can splash with their families, swim a few laps or maintain exercise routines while away from home. Show hotel management you appreciate the lift and their support by telling them in person, completing a hotel survey or writing a positive online review.     

While the specific terms of the ADA regulations regarding pool and spa access vary based on a number of factors, most existing and all new or newly altered pools serving the public (so-called Title III entities) do require an accessible means 

of entry/exit. In some cases, a sloped entry to a pool is deemed sufficient, but typically at least one fixed pool lift is
the expected standard. 

For more on ADA’s requirements for existing pools, read the Q&A at And for other recent ADA developments, see ADA Roundup in Access MDA.

Made-for-the-water swimming jackets and neoprene shorts keep you warm even in chilly water. Items can be bought from H2O Wear and athletic stores. Aquatic shoes help prevent slipping on tiles and can be worn in and out of the water. Inexpensive shoes are sold at discount retailers in the summer.

Maximize exercising in the pool with a variety of fitness accessories. Search online for everything from foam barbells and paddles to webbed gloves and flotation belts. Even an inexpensive water noodle can be used for a range of water exercises. 

Note: Always check with your MDA physician and clinic team before beginning any kind of exercise program, including aquatic therapy.

Barbara Twardowski has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) and uses a power wheelchair. Jim, her husband, is a registered nurse. The couple lives in Mandeville, La., and writes about accessible travel topics.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)
MDA cannot respond to questions asked in the comments field. For help with questions, contact your local MDA office or clinic or email See comment policy