Getting Accommodations During the Pandemic

Last updated: February 2021

My general stance on the pandemic: things are challenging for everyone and we are all just trying to figure it out. So when my local pool re-opened without any plans for accessibility, I took a breath and started asking for reasonable accommodations.

After my condo community’s outdoor pool closed for the summer, I was eager to find a place where I could continue my aquatic exercises during the cold months. During the summer, I was really happy to return to aquatic therapy as my indoor pool therapy shut down due to the pandemic.

The rules at our pool were good and kept everyone safe. We signed up for slots in advance to limit the numbers and followed masking and social distancing guidelines. It worked out very well and helped me to manage my rheumatoid arthritis by getting my ideal type of exercise for my joints.

Looking for an indoor pool for the winter

I was thrilled in October when the city announced they would be re-opening the public pools. Unfortunately, my preferred indoor pool (which is super warm and considered a therapy pool) had not reopened due to concerns that they had about safety.

Only lap swimmers were allowed

However, my stomach sank when the details came out that only lap swimmers were to be allowed. I need the pool to do a specific set of exercises for my arthritic joints. Lap swimming was not going to be accessible for me.

Asking for reasonable accommodations at the pool

I started first by reaching out directly to the pool near me and asked: "Will you provide reasonable accommodations for accessibility? Will you figure out a way that I can do my exercises as I am not a lap swimmer?"

The manager was eager to help figure things out and I was so relieved. We worked with him and the supervisory office to figure out what we could do. At first, only the large competitive lap swimming pool was open. But at one end, they had a pool lift I could use and helped to park it in the best place for my entry. I would have my own area in which to do my exercises.

A need for more accessibility

However, this was a less than ideal situation and may not work for me as the weather gets colder.

Part of the problem is that, for safety during the pandemic, they are not allowing entry into the changing areas. While the other rules are good (masking, limited numbers with advance sign-ups for 45-minute time slots, and social distancing), this is a tricky one. I wear my swimsuit to the pool with no problem.

But coming home means drying it off as best I can then putting on clothes and a coat over the suit to try to keep warm while going home. This is fine in warmer weather, but as the temperature drops, it is tough.

The real problem with the lap pool is that it is both cold and deep. As the lift drops me into the water, I feel the shock of it freezing my joints. While I get moving as quickly as possible, it’s like failing to tread water. I get colder and colder. I hope the exercise helps my RA, but I know that the cold water harms it. Additionally, I am a shorty. And in the shallowest area where I could do my exercises, I still can not touch the bottom. I can’t do my most important exercise which is water walking.

An accessible option

Soon after starting my pool visits for aquatic exercise, we see that the preferred pool (called the leisure pool) has been filled. It is shallow and has a zero-entry area and a water wheelchair which Richard can use to wheel me right in. It is being used for some small classes, but otherwise, most of the time remains empty and unused. While I am grateful for the reasonable accommodations I got for the lap pool, what I really need is access to the leisure pool. It’s the pool I always used when visiting this facility pre-pandemic and would be more effective for my therapy.

Advocacy works

The pool manager didn’t have the authority to grant me access, so my advocacy campaign with the director of aquatics began. I explained that I couldn’t do my full exercises and the harm of the cold water in the lap pool. I explained that the leisure pool was a better depth and kept at a warmer temperature, solving these major barriers for my exercises. Additionally, because in that pool I can use a water wheelchair to go down a ramp in the pool, it was much easier for me and more accessible.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a battle. But ultimately, I was granted reasonable accommodation to use the leisure pool as long as I avoided going during the class times. For me, this is perfectly reasonable on both fronts. We’re maintaining safety for the pool staff and visitors, while able to get the access for me to complete all my exercises.

My joints are now a little happier

After being back in the pool for several weeks, I feel so much better. My RA is less grouchy when I can get a few pool sessions in per week. I think it’s the combination of exercise and warm water that makes my joints a little happier and helps me to keep up my strength. While sometimes it takes time and effort to figure out new situations and negotiate reasonable accommodations, it is definitely worthwhile.

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