Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Sean O’Sullivan, Director of The Pool Lift Company, talks about the different ways to gain access to water activities and how the design of swimming pools is changing.
Swim England has carried out extensive research to demonstrate the value of swimming to individuals and society. Their findings reveal the positive impact that swimming has to a person’s physical and mental well-being, which in turn helps to relieve the pressure on our health and social care system. 
But it isn’t just swimming which has benefits; aquatic therapy and hydrotherapy are also commonly used by Occupational Therapists, as a tool for conditions which could be physical, physiological, or psychosocial. Therefore, you could say that water is an important ‘treatment’ which should be readily accessible to patients. However, many existing swimming pools and hot tubs often have physical barriers, such as steps or a high ledge, which are totally impractical for patients with a disability, older people or those recovering from injury.
The ‘Accessible Sports Facilities Design Guide'  aims to change this, by increasing awareness of good design in sports facilities, including access to swimming pools. It says: “Whatever the type and scale of pool, there should be a variety of means of access to the water in order to accommodate all users.” It then lists the various options, including a pool access ladder, ramped entry, steps (built in and portable), portable slide or chute, submersible platform lift, or a hoist.
Photo: East Riding Haltemprice Leisure required a pool lift solution to make its small pool accessible and inclusive to all.
Having different options is important. A sloped entry swimming pool might sound ideal, but a patient could still need help to wade in and out of the pool if there isn’t a handrail. Whereas a submersible pool platform or a pool lift can safely lower and lift the person in and out of the water. A submersible pool platform is undoubtedly the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the industry, but there are other brilliant products available, like the Panda Pod, that suit different budgets and come with other advantages. For example, portable pool lifts mean a person can be transported safely from the changing room to the pool side, plus the lift can be stored away easily, if space is an issue.
Photo: Three of the subtropical swimming pools within the LAGO group now have a Panda Pod onsite which has improved accessibility to the wellness swimming pool areas.
When specifying the right product, always consider the following:
For pools or hot tubs fully in the ground, choose a portable or fixed lift
If the pool or hot tub is walled or partially above ground, a fixed pool lift or hoist is your only option
Think about how far the lift needs to go to get someone into the water safely and how high it will need to raise up to clear any walls or curbs
It is also good to be aware of ceiling heights if indoors as, even if a lift looks like it is not tall, once you raise it all the way up, it may extend beyond a typical 8-foot-high ceiling
An accessibility survey is always advisable and will determine the best solution
A pool lift is an ideal solution for many existing or traditional swimming pools which have steps down into the water, or where there is a ledge. We are also seeing a new wave of swimming designs which incorporate moveable bulkheads and moveable floor systems, which have self-depositing steps.
Occupational Therapists may like to find out about another new trend, the 'spool'.
A spool is a hybrid of a spa and pool. It is much smaller than a swimming pool and about twice the length of an average hot tub, making it ideal for smaller gardens or outdoor spaces. The idea is that you swim against a current, which can be adjusted according to your physical ability. With the addition of a pool lift, it opens opportunities for so many people who might not be able to access their local swimming pool, or who would prefer the privacy of their own space.
The Pool Lift Company welcomes Occupational Therapists to contact them, to discuss different solutions which would enable their patients to enjoy the benefits of water therapy. Find out more here.
 Swim England. Value of Swimming. Available from: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/value-of-swimming/
 Sport England. Accessible Sports Facilities Design Guidance. Available from: https://www.sportengland.org/how-we-can-help/facilities-and-planning/design-and-cost-guidance/accessible-facilities
COVID-19: Returning to Pools Guidance Documents
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