While ADA compliance might be a mandate for your facility, to truly serve your whole community, you should count accessible aquatic programming among your best practices. Swimming isn’t just for swim teams, and recreation facilities offering a diverse range of swim programs with accessibility in mind put themselves at the forefront of efforts to build healthy, happy communities. Luckily, swim therapy programming is no longer a tough sell, but for proof of the community value or the ROI, consider the following:
There are patrons. Aquatic therapy programs are an excellent way of attracting a wider array of community groups to your facility. As just one example, water is an ideal environment for treating congenital conditions in children, and since parents are such vocal and organized advocates, there’s a high demand for programming that caters to that population. On land, children who have difficulty controlling their head or trunk often require the use of special seating systems for positioning, but the pool helps children take risks without catastrophic consequences, allowing freedom to play, explore and exercise without restraint.
There are precedents. Many national recreation facilities, like YMCAs and Jewish Community Centers, offer a diverse range of swim classes for patrons with special needs, and not just because they happen to have the resources at their disposal. Promoting water competence far and wide has long been in the national spotlight as a public health concern, so this type of programming makes a timely and compelling fundraising pitch for your facility — not to mention the immeasurable value added to your local community.
There are resources. Funding sources for accessibility programming abound, as does scientific research on the health benefits of aquatic activity. And it should come as no surprise, this being the age of networks, that aquatic therapy networks and learn-to-swim initiatives are thriving, too. With this in mind, facilities looking to expand their programming to accessible offerings need only do a little research and pick up the phone to get the ball rolling.
Swimming is one of the only exercise activities your patrons can enjoy for an entire lifetime. Making accessibility an integral part of your programming means keeping your whole community in mind for the entire life of that community. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a necessary practice: to keep your curriculum accessible.
Chris Martin is the public relations specialist at the National Swimming Pool Foundation. For a bibliography of resources on how water works for treating congenital conditions, see the full Aquatic Health Benefits Bulletin at nspf.org/healthbenefits.