WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is sidestepping an election-year confrontation with the hotel industry and other pool owners to give them more time to comply with access rules for the disabled.
The rules have been in the works since the early 1990s, but the Justice Department created an uproar among hotels, waterparks, health clubs, and other businesses earlier this year when it said it will require many facilities to install fixed lifts to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
After initially setting a March 15 deadline the department has granted two extensions. It first said it might grant a reprieve until September, then the Justice Department announced last week that pool owners will not have to comply with the new requirements until early next year, a move that gets the controversy safely past the election.
At issue is whether hotels and other facilities will have to install fixed lifts to assist disabled people getting in and out of their pools, which can require hiring a contractor and tearing up the pool deck at a cost of as much as $6,000. Many pool owners were hoping to comply with the rules by purchasing less costly portable lifts that could be wheeled out to the pool as needed. Hotel owners who already have lifts say few of their customers ever ask for them.
Advocates for the disabled are frustrated by the delay, saying it means another summer swim season without lifts at most pools. They accused the hotel industry of creating an 11th hour tempest to undo rules that have been in the making since the Clinton administration.
“It’s a little disingenuous to say that came out of nowhere,’’ said Heather Ansley, a lawyer with United Spinal Association.
But they are pleased that the Justice Department is not caving in to demands that everybody be allowed to get by with portable lifts.
“They’ve been trying to duck it for 10 years, and the agency keeps putting it off, putting it off,’’ said Representative Jerold Nadler, a Democrat from New York. “Enough already.’’
Disabled people complain that in cities where lifts are already required, portable lifts are often stowed away and that not all employees know how to operate them. And they say the hotel and motel industry has a long record of trying to evade access rules for the disabled.