April 5, 2024

Universal Design thinking for Swimming Pools

Designing swimming pools can be tricky for many reasons such as code requirements, safety concerns, proper water filtration, and maintaining good air quality.  What about creating a pool facility that is also more accessible and inclusive while also providing a safer environment for all? Implementing several Universal Design strategies at the forefront of the design process establishes a pool allowing people to maintain their independence, reducing accidents, and offering the potential to improve one’s quality of life.  People feel a sense of belonging and connection when they are engaged, active and exercising at the pool.

As a long time swimmer, a pool is like a second home to me, but for many, pools can be foreign territory - a slippery deck, difficulty getting in and out, negotiating with other swimmers in the same lane, a watchful lifeguard, leaking goggles, and simply swimming a decent stroke while breathing properly so you don’t become exhausted too soon.  Universal design thinking can help make things easier for all pool users.  Here are strategies you should consider when designing a pool facility:

  1. Provide a gutter profile that is flush with the deck and eliminates a curb condition.  Proper color and texture contrast is necessary between the deck and water’s edge.  This condition helps people more easily negotiate getting in and out of the pool.
  2. A pool environment can be a reverberation box because of all the reflective surfaces.  People will have a hard time understanding each other if the acoustics are not addressed.  Use acoustical controls to reduce this reverberation by placing tectum panel on at least two walls and lapendary panels on the ceiling as recommended by an acoustician.
  3. Chloramines, or chlorine gas, cause eye and skin irritation and have a strong odor.  They typically hover over the surface of the water in the zone where we breathe as swimming.  A simple solution to remove many of these chloramines is to provide laminar air flow.  On one side of the pool, provide a continuous curtain of supply air up high with continuous return vents at the other side of the pool down low at deck level.  This distribution design pulls the air across the pool surface keeping it fresh.
  4. Glare on the water’s surface can be a problem for users and lifeguards.  Artificial lighting fixtures should be placed above the deck (and not above the water) for ease of maintenance while any natural lighting should be positioned and controlled to minimize glare from the water.
  5. Properly designed deck drainage will better maintain a dry condition.  For slip resistance in indoor pools, I prefer a 1x1 porcelain tile pattern providing a higher density of grout joints.
  6. The ends of lane lines and backstroke flags should be in colors that provide contrast from their immediate surroundings.  Many times, overlooked, these visual cues alert a novice swimmer that the end of the pool is approaching.
  7. All bodies of water should have a transfer station that allows users to enter and leave a pool independently if they choose to.  Transfer stations begin with a platform up at the height of a wheelchair seat and then contain a series of platform steps into the pool with a handrail.
  8. Doors are a barrier to many, especially if you have a disability. Auto-opening doors are a must around pools.  The negative pressure of aquatic environments translates into a heavier push/pull force combined with a wet floor that could cause more slipping.
  9. Handrails should be in all wet corridors and on all the interior walls surrounding the pool.  Anyone having difficulty walking will use them while preventing a possible slip and fall.
  10. People need areas to sit and rest if not in the water. Recessed benches work best for a couple of reasons.  First, they eliminate trip hazards with loose furniture being scattered about, and secondly, the base of the bench provides a functional place for return air vents.
  11. A toe hold is a simple channel in the wall of the deep end for security and resting.  It is typically located about four feet down from the water’s surface providing a recessed ledge for a novice swimmer to place their foot.
  12. An accessible changing room is a must.  It should be equipped with a full-size mat table and grab bars allowing individuals to change their clothes while lying down. Additionally, provide an accessible roll in shower, sink, and toilet, companion seat, and a full-length mirror and a privacy lock with occupancy indicator.

Adopting Universal Design thinking into your pool facility project is an effective way to help everyone enjoy the pool experience while elevating safety. Contact us for more information.

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