Disabled access to leisure centres and swimming pools — Scope | Disability forum
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Disabled access to leisure centres and swimming pools

dgt2333 Member Posts: 1
Hello lovely people

I am a wheelchair user with paraplegia and am a keen swimmer. I love going swimming because I can move freely without using a chair. Since moving to London, I have tried to visit many leisure centres and their pools and have had horrendous experiences. One had a chair hoist with the chair detached from the hoist. One had no door to the shower room. Another had an awful shower seat that meant I couldn't sit on it without feeling I was about to fall off. One was in a building that was only accessible by very steep slopes and had no lift. My most recent adventure was at the new leisure centre at Elephant and Castle, where the newly built 20-mil complex had very good showering facilities, but a useless hoist. It was a "pool lift", that is, a pitiful sling with chains. I told the manager I could not possibly use it because I would just slip off the sling. To me, as someone with limited mobility and sensation who is also very slim and boney, any sling hoist without belts or leg straps is a death trap. Not to mention that the life guards, though well-intentioned I am sure, are hardly trained in using sling hoists. In the end I decided to do a risky chair to floor transfer to get into the pool to prove that I have a right to swim as much as anyone else. But I would not want to do that again if I can avoid it.

On that note, I would like to ask if other disabled swimmers, wheelchair user or not, have had similar difficulties in accessing pools or leisure centres. I was very shocked and disappointed that the city that boasted of a successful Paralympics in 2012 could have such appalling disabled facilities. Have you encountered broken hoists and woeful showers too? I would love to hear your stories and thoughts.



  • Noah
    Noah Member Posts: 423 Pioneering
    Firstly, well done for not giving up, despite clearly, the very inaccessible facilities that did not meet your needs and expectations. 

    It is also great to hear you love swimming, and that it allows you to move freely while being supported by the water.

    Not sure exactly what to suggest here, have you written to the swimming pool management team directly explaining the situation? Maybe you are are able offer your services in a advisory capacity, to help them improve the accessibility of their facilities and possibly work with the pool staff to give them the experience and training that is required.

    I'm sure they would be interested, as your experience will help them be better prepared to assist other disabled visitors.

    Please let us know how you get on

  • kiasian
    kiasian Member Posts: 3
    The Olympic Aquatic Centre in Stratford is open to all and cheap, except its closed until 31st May due to a swimming competition. Access info here http://www.londonaquaticscentre.org/faqs#faqcat_19

  • Blue Frog
    Blue Frog Member Posts: 358 Pioneering
    We have definately found swimming to be one of the most inaccessible activities ever. Which is a huge shame as my daughter loves it, and it is very good exercise and ironically one of the few sports she can do. 

    In my 'discussions' with staff at leisure centres (even new ones) it seems there is a legal requirement for access - but it is woefully inadequate.

    I am so sad that in this day and age, in a brand new leisure centre (who PROMISED good facilities)  We have the huge contrast seeing my daughter splashing and laughing like everyone else in the pool, then crying cause she has to lie on a freezing, hard wet floor to get changed afterwards. 
  • Zeezee
    Zeezee Member Posts: 78 Pioneering
    Hi Christina,
    Accessability to swimming pools is a huge bugbear of mine because I have been taking my daughter since the outreach nurses from NICU said I could take her and she weighed only 5lb. I could only keep her in for 5 mins as she turned blue with the cold very quickly. Once Zee reached around 5 month old and I started to suspect CP I was even more determined to take her swimming as much as possible. My local pool at the time was really old and a new one was being built with the promise of fantastic disabled facilities. So I struggled on carrying her and her pram up 15 stairs to get in the building, huge solid wood doors a weightlifter would struggle opening and cubicles round the side of the pool a 5 yearold couldn't fit into. Also a freezing cold pool. But only a few months and my struggles would be over. YEAH RIGHT.
    I had enquired about the disabled changing and was told it had everything I would need. So off I went I told my mum she didn't have to struggle after a nightshift to come along and help me, which is what we had to do at the old pool. I asked about the disabled changing room and was shown a big cubicle with a wooden bench in it. I noticed that there was a button for people in wheelchairs to press for the doors to open to get into the area where the changing rooms where but once in there was no way to get out. I told the attendant that a wooden bench was no good to me, he took me to another changing room with a hoist, bed with padded cot sides, a great shower with a chair, and a toilet and sink. A manager came in and said I couldn't use that room as there were school lessons going on so I would have to use the changing room in the other side. I was taken to that one which had a shower (no chair) and a toilet. I asked to see the manager again as I was not prepared to put my daughter on either a baby changing table with no straps or the floor when they had perfect facilities which they said I couldn't use as it was a safeguarding issue changing in the same area as schoolchildren. Even though we would be in a room behind a locked door. I argued back and forth stating that refusing to let me use the facilities was a safeguarding issue for my daughter and eventually they let me use the safe changing room.
    After that everytime I took my daughter the manager moaned about something or other to me, "how long have you had your child in the pool she looks cold", "does she have a swimming nappy on, I can't see under that frilly tutu on her swimsuit", "make sure her shoulders stay under the water it will keep her warmer", "don't let her drink the water its not hygenic", I challenge anyone to stop a two year old putting water in their mouths while swimming. Anyway I carried on going for a while just to wind the manager up but the pool was so cold that Zee would go into a full spasm and refuse to move her legs at all because of the cold so it was pointless.
    So now I have a choice of Hyde fun pool with no disabled changing at all but very warm water and great fun, although a little expensive for twice weekly visits or Stockport which has a disabled changing room but the bed pulls down over the shower chair so its impossible to use the shower but does have a bed and its fairly warm.
    Sorry for the essay but like I said this is one of my pet hates and the fact that I fought so hard to get my daughter swimming before she was two years old, which I did manage with armbands and a waddle, she swam alone two and a half weeks before her second birthday, but because of accessability problems which stopped us going for a while and she had a growth spurt and stopped using her legs and she can't swim again now, but if I was able to take her twice a week I know she would be swimming in no time but sadly it is just too much of a mission.
  • Pshock
    Pshock Member Posts: 1
    This is indeed a problem for us, too. We joined our local hotel leisure centre because the pool was warm and didn't send me into spasm. However as I have grown, I need to be hoisted out of my chair. The pool has a disabled changing room, a hoist poolside and a chair, but no hoist in the changing room and no bench. The previous management used to accommodate me by bringing in a lounger bench from the relaxation area, and even offered the use of a hotel room if it would help. But things change. The last time we attempted to go, the style of lounger bench had been changed to a large more cumbersome wooden one. They wanted me to pay a full night's price to use a bedroom and even if I'd have agreed, there's still no hoist. We suggested bringing a portable one with us (though there's little enough room already in the changing room) but got into a debate that they initiated about health and safety, & needing trained operators, and somewhere to store it whilst we were in the pool.... Just ridiculously complicated so now I don't go any more. 

    I would say, however, that we just googled "Disabled Access to Swimming Pools .gov.uk" and amongst the search results were many pools in UK which seemed to have descriptions of their access,( you could search for a particular county or district)  but I could not find exact government guidelines showing legal requirements or regulations. 


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