Universal Access

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Everyone knows about the benefits of water recreation and exercise. A brisk breaststroke before breakfast, swimming laps after lunch and even a pool party with friends and neighbors are all great ways to raise the spirits and get one's blood pumping. Most of us give little or no thought to getting into and out of the water for these activities. If the water's cool, we may opt for the steps to allow our bodies time to get used to the water. If it's not, we may choose to dive into the deep end. But what about those for whom it's difficult or even impossible to get into and out of the pool so easily?

"Water exercise is just excellent for everybody, whether they have a disability or not. And a swimming pool lift is just a little bit of an equalizer," says Don Krebs, owner of Access To Recreation, a lift distributor in Newbury Park, Calif. "It allows people to get into and out of the pool without the help of too many other people."

According to Krebs, who is a quadriplegic himself (see sidebar on page 62), these lifts weren't even available until around 1980, the year the Nolan Pool Lift made its debut at the International Pool & Spa Expo.

"Basically, we introduced it at the Expo and we got a terrible reception," says Linda Nolan, president of Aquatic Access, Louisville, Ky., and daughter of the product's inventor, John Nolan. "People just ignored it or looked at it and made a face and said, 'Well, I don't know anybody who needs that.' So, times have changed. It's taken a lot longer than we thought it would, though."

Today, thanks in large part to the 1990 passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, people of all degrees of physical ability are able to participate in the recreation, rehabilitation and relaxation pools can provide.

"The ADA is really a driver of our business," says Bruce Giffin, national sales manager for Aqua Creek Products, Missoula, Mont. "Unfortunately, if it wasn't for the ADA, I don't think anyone would really be bothering with them."

The Act

All the manufacturers and distributors we spoke with singled out the ADA as the catalyst for the growth of the pool lift industry. Its enactment meant that all public pools were compelled to install pool lifts to help the disabled get into and out of the pool. As people became more familiar with the product through exposure at YMCAs, municipal pools and the like, a significant residential marketplace developed. Giffin estimates that a healthy 20 percent of his company's sales are for residential pools, but for others the percentage is even greater.

"We probably sell about half and half, commercial and residential," Nolan says. "A lot of times, though, people will use the commercial models in their backyards."

The difference between commercial and residential models, she explains, is that the models mandated for commercial pools must be selfoperable, while models for backyard pools have no such requirements.

"Basically, the self-operability requirement eliminates our EZ and Power EZ lifts [ from compliance in public pools], only because the operator cannot rotate the lift to get himself over the pool," Giffin explains.

Aqua Creek's EZ lift features a pump-type handle that requires an assistant to raise and lower the user, who sits in a sling. The company's Power EZ is a little easier in that the bather can raise and lower the sling, but he or she still needs help to rotate it over the surface of the pool. The company also makes a Spa Lift, which likewise requires assistance to rotate the user over the water and is therefore suitable only for residential use.

"The ADA guidelines are designed to cover as many handicapped individuals as possible," Giffin explains. "They want to allow most of them the greatest independence. Obviously, a quad can't operate it by themselves anyway; they're going to need an attendant."

Product Placement

Another ADA guideline specifies where on the pool the lift can be installed. "They are not to be installed in water that's over 48 inches deep, and typically you want them to be between 36 and 48 inches," Giffin says.

"Residential pools aren't bound by these same guidelines, but I like to tell the installers to use that guideline, only because it was developed by the ADA as the proper depth at which someone can become buoyant and float away from the seat."

Aquatic Access's Nolan agrees, adding that residential installation does allow for a little more flexibility.

"Most people who have some disability on land would like to be able to stand up in the pool, and so while you can put it in as little as 3 feet, 4 is better," she says. "But when it's a person at home, of course everything is going to be built specifically to that person's needs. For instance, a 6foot-tall man might like to have it at 4 1/2 or 5 feet. When he stands and holds onto the side, he'd need more buoyancy to support him in the water. So the regulations are trying to find what's best for the most people, whereas in a backyard you can put in exactly what you need."

For builders and dealers who might be hesitant to take on projects like this because they're unsure of how to accommodate a disabled client, Krebs offers some reassurance.

"Most of the manufacturers require a worksheet to be filled out about the particular pool, and that might include some information about the person that's going to use it," he says. "You don't want the chair to go down so low in the water that the person's face will be underwater, especially if they're strapped in. Those things are all considerations."

Nolan also points out that installation itself is well within the abilities of the average builder, aftermarket installer or service person. Retrofits simply require you to drill a 2-inchdiameter hole and to cement in a socket, much the way you'd do to install a ladder or handrail.

"And then, since our lifts are powered by water pressure from the hose to a faucet, you're just running a hose across the deck and to the lift," she says. "On new construction, though, you'll often plumb that line in so you won't have a hose going across the deck."

Whichever type of lift you and your clients choose — and the options range from battery-powered automatic to water-assisted semi-automatic to entirely manual — the important thing is that your clients are getting something that will help them immeasurably.

"Just imagine if you had a hard time moving on land and were in a wheelchair," Nolan says. "Think of the therapy it would be to be free in the water.

You could stretch and move your arms and legs and your entire trunk in ways you can't when you're sitting in a wheelchair. It's a lot more than recreation for a disabled person."

Suitable For Swimming

New suit easy to put on, take off

For guys, putting on a swimsuit isn't that big of a deal. Even most elderly men who might have a hard time walking can manage without assistance. I've been told by several colleagues, however, that putting on a one-piece swimsuit can challenge even the fittest of female swimmers.

Enter the Adapted Bathing Suit, designed by a woman with Parkinson's disease who'd grown tired — literally and figuratively — of the 30-minute ordeal that getting out of her wet swimsuit involved.

The Velcro-fastened suit, which Aquatics by Sprint says is designed to allow the elderly, overweight and otherwise-in-need-of-assistance to more-easily put a suit on before a swim and take it off afterwards, is available in sizes ranging from the child's size 3 to adult sizes up to 5X.

"The fabric for the Adapted Bathing Suit provides superior stretch, and the Velcro closures are made for the water," says Aquatics by Sprint's Dianne Rothhammer. "This suit saves time and energy expenditure with a custom fit every time."

— B.K.

A Man With A Plan

Search for ski inspires entrepreneurship

As a world-class water skier, Don Krebs was accustomed to going fast — he'd been pulled at speeds of over 100 miles per hour during his competitive career. He was also accustomed to falling, and at such high speeds that always meant a series of scary-looking but ultimately harmless summersaults across the surface of the water. In 1978, at a competition in San Diego's Mission Bay, however, the 22-year-old skier took a spill at around 80 miles per hour that didn't conform to those rules.

"I went over the front of the ski, and this time I just stopped and I hit head first and it compressed my neck and damaged my spinal cord," Krebs says of the accident that left him a quadriplegic 29 years ago.

Krebs, who'd learned to ski at 4, knew the accident had ended his competitive career, but his love for the sport lived on. "I just loved water skiing," he says. "It was what we always did on family vacations and it's what I really loved. So I wanted to be able to do it again — to go back out camping and enjoy the water and the sun and boating and all of that. I was determined."

Krebs began searching for a water ski that he could use, finally finding one that had been designed by another quadriplegic. He managed to get up on his first attempt and skied for a couple of miles. "It was great!"

Krebs later went back to college and earned a degree, then went on to work on his MBA. One of the courses he took was on entrepreneurship. "The final project for that class was to write a business plan, so I wrote it on Access to Recreation," he explains. "My professor told me I'd be a fool if I didn't do it, so I quit college and started the business."

Now, 20 years later, Krebs's company is the industry leader in supplying products that help handicapped people adapt to everyday life. His most-popular products, he says, are pool lifts, which allow people who otherwise may not be able to get into the water a chance to enjoy some recreation and rehabilitation.

"For so many people water is really good exercise," he says. "I know that people who aren't as paralyzed as myself, they're wanting to exercise their legs. For instance, [the late actor] Christopher Reeve. When he got a little bit of movement, they had him working out in a pool, because it's just the ideal place to do something like that."

— B.K.

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