LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This summer, many pools around the country have an extra chair on deck, one required by law. Not all of the country's hotel, park and gym pools have the new chairs yet, and some pool owners don't want to install them. Gigi Douban reports from Birmingham, Alabama.
GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: A few feet away from where some six-year-olds are having a swim lesson at the Vestavia Hills swimming pool near Birmingham, there's a blue chair.
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DOUBAN: Just looking at it, you might think it's a lifeguard chair, only low to the ground. But it's actually a chair lift to help people with disabilities get in and out of the water.
CANDIA COLE: Press down. As you see, it goes really, really slow, and it will pretty much submerge all the way down to where they're waist level in the water, where they can slide out and stand up, grab hold of the side of the pool.
DOUBAN: Candia Cole is the Vestavia Hills Pool supervisor. Cole's is one of thousands of pools around the country that scrambled to get the chair lift installed last May. That was the second deadline set by the U.S. Justice Department as part of a new provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But then pool owners complained. The chair lifts cost as much as $8,000. Most hotel pools don't have lifeguards to operate the chairs. And right in time for summer, some feared they'd have to shut down their pools for noncompliance.
So the Justice Department extended the deadline to January. Eve Hill of the Justice Department says even though this is the second deadline extension, she thinks it'll be the last.
EVE HILL: And I also believe that come January, when people actually implement it, they'll go, oh, this is fine.
DOUBAN: But the American Hotel and Lodging Association says it's not fine. Kevin Maher says these chair lifts are an accident waiting to happen.
KEVIN MAHER: So you're putting what is essentially an attractive nuisance at the shallow end of the pool. You know, kids are going to come and they're going to play on that and use it as a diving board. There's a chance of them getting hurt or damaging the equipment.
DOUBAN: Hill says there are tables and chairs around the pools. A chair lift, she says, isn't any more dangerous than that. But forget for a minute whether kids are going to jump off the thing. The real question is: Will anyone with a disability use it? Twenty-six-year-old Melanie Manning has been wheelchair-bound since she was paralyzed in an ATV accident nine years ago. She says at most pools, the water's too cold for her to get in, anyway.
MELANIE MANNING: Anything that's below 90, 92, I clam up. Like, your whole muscles just, like, lock up, and I can't do it.
DOUBAN: Manning swims once a week at the Lakeshore Foundation, a rehabilitative facility in Birmingham. Even if the temperature's right, Melanie says, there are half a dozen other things that need to be in place for her to get in the water, like a mat to be laid out on and someone strong enough to hoist her slippery, 118-pound frame out of the pool lift and back into her wheelchair.
MANNING: I mean, if you don't have people wheelchairs going there regularly, or if you don't have all the other accommodations they're going to need, what's the point in the chair? You know, I mean, they're still not going to get in there if they don't have everything that they need.
DOUBAN: But Hill of the Justice Department says the new rules aren't meant to give access to everyone with a disability.
HILL: They're based for an average sort of person. So it's not designed to meet the needs of the entire range of people with disabilities.
DOUBAN: Cole at the Vestavia Hills pool says that could be someone who's missing a limb or even someone with arthritis. She says, so far, no one's asked to use the chair lift.
COLE: If it's used or not, you know...
DOUBAN: It's here.
HILL: Yeah, it's here. So we got it, ready to go. Come on down. The water's fine.
DOUBAN: What she's trying to say is: They're ready. For NPR News, I'm Gigi Douban, in Birmingham, Alabama.
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