JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tonight, local hotels are scrambling to get in line with a new regulation. The Department of Justice is requiring hotels and public facilities to install a device that would make swimming pools accessible to people with disabilities.
It's all part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but some say it's a big blow to their bottom line.
It's been many years since Patricia Scott has taken a refreshing dip on a hot Jacksonville day in a swimming pool. She's been confined to a wheelchair since 2006 because of back injuries.
"The only activities that I enjoy now is that if it rains, if I get caught in the rain outside, and that's about it," she said
That's why Scott is so excited for Thursday, when new Americans with Disabilities Act requirements kick in and require most public swimming pools, including ones at hotels, to either have a pool lift for disabled people installed, or have a plan in place to install one soon.
Scott said, "It's not much fun at all when other people are swimming and enjoying their lives, and I have to just sit and do nothing and watch other people enjoy their activities."
Donald Harris is the general manager at the Wyndham Riverwalk. He said, "That's a huge expense." That expense could be as much as $8,000 for a permanent pool lift. A portable one could cost around $2,000.
The Wyndham is one of nearly 20 Jacksonville hotels we called today for this story. Harris is the only person who agreed to speak with us on camera. Here's why: Most hotel operators told us they are concerned about drawing attention to their pools, worried their lifts or plans may not be in compliance. The ADA could slap a violator with up to a $55,000 fine. Private lawsuits could be even more. "All guests are important, we want to satisfy everyone, and we don't want to discriminate against anyone as well," Harris said.
The North Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, along with a number of local hotels are petitioning the federal government and the ADA with this list of appeal items. Asking for things like more time to install the lifts, and the option to install portable lifts that hotel operators can share between properties to keep costs down. Harris added, "If we could do more of the portable units, that would make it more cost efficient, and we could make it happen a lot quicker."
The Wyndham has plans in place, and those make the hotel technically in compliance, but don't expect to see a lift at their pool just yet. It's on back order, and could take as long as six months for a contractor to install. That's part of the reason they are petitioning the ADA for a portable lift option. "This is a positive, but at the same time, we have to look at our economic times," Harris said.
Leaving people like Scott wondering if anyone in the hotel industry has even considered that installing these lifts could actually be good for business. "It would make other people come to the motel, if people in wheelchairs and disability, people would be able to come to the motels and they would make more money," she said.
We checked with the City of Jacksonville. They tell us their pools will be compliant by the time they open on May 26th. Pam Roman of Jax Parks told us via e-mail, if any pools are not ADA compliant by that time, the city will not open them until they are.
Of course, we can't check all of the pools in Jacksonville, so if you're out and see a hotel without a lift or a plan, let us know on Facebook.
First Coast News