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The Scarlet & Black

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Concerns arise concerning pool accessibility

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law, seeking to ensure that people with a disability would have access to public space. Any building created after 1990 must adhere to its regulations. This past summer the College celebrated the completion of a spectacular new athletic center, including a 50-meter by 25-yard pool. Since the pool’s completion, however, questions have arisen about the pool’s compliance with the ADA.

The pool lift inside the new Russell K. Osgood pool. Photo taken by Sophie Fajardo.

At the heart of the ADA is the concept of “reasonable accommodation,” which seeks to honor the rights of people with disabilities while protecting institutions from unreasonable, and often very expensive, demands. In budget-cutting times, deciding what is reasonably accommodative can be a daunting task.

“We have made great advances with this new facility. To the best of my knowledge, we are ADA compliant,” said Head Swimming Coach Erin Hurley. “However, I hope we will explore how we can be even more inviting to people with disabilities, keeping in mind the economic pressures we all are facing.”

Assistant Swimming Coach Tim Hammond echoed Hurley, saying, “We meet them [ADA regulations], whether or not that’s sufficient.”

Claire Forrest, a third-year English major and active participant on the swim team, believes that the new facility, while much better than the PEC, has flaws that can make getting around the pool a challenge. Forrest, who uses a motorized wheelchair, expressed gratitude to Jennifer Krohn, the Accessibility Committee and Facilities Management for working so hard on mobility issues. Just this past fall, the College constructed a permanent ramp at the entrance to Mears Cottage, which has made it a lot easier for her to get inside.

Unfortunately, Forrest finds the pool less accommodating.

“I love the facility and it’s been great to swim in it, but there are design things, such as raised thresholds, that don’t have a lot of function, and they just make it difficult to get over in a wheelchair.”

One threshold has been removed from the wet corridor to the pool, but others remain.

“If I use the bathroom or shower I kind of have to pop a wheelie,” Forrest said. “And when I’m on my scooter and I’m ready to leave the locker room, I usually ask a teammate to hold the door, because especially when you’re exiting, it’s really narrow and almost every time I get stuck.”

Chris Dorman, another member of the swim team, complained about the lack of automatic door openers inside the facility. Conventional doors are often too heavy for people who use chairs or scooters.

“When I learned about this, I couldn’t believe it,” Dorman said. “Claire is extremely independent and doesn’t rely on anybody to help her, but we are a team of 80 students, so someone is going to help her. However, that shouldn’t be the rationale. In a brand new facility, everyone should be able to move easily.”

Despite these problems, Forrest contends that the pool area is generally manageable for her.

“There are things that they have done, such as the chair that lowers into the shallow end and the set of stairs, that are good.”

“I’ve been to lots of pools and I’ve seen a lot worse,” she continued. “On the whole, I think [the pool] does really well. I think when you plan a design, though, you have to be conscious of the building’s full range of users. I can manage it, but it’s not just about me. Anyone should be able to use it—the elderly, children, people with more significant impairments,” said Claire.

Pat Comparin ’12, who uses a power chair, makes just this point.

“Claire can do it, but I can’t,” he said.

Collectively, Hurley, Forrest, Comparin and Dorman all applaud the many accessibility improvements at the College, but still recognize that more could—and should—be done.

As of now, there are no plans to install electronic doors in the pool area or locker rooms.

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