Accessibility of municipal swimming pools for people with disabilities or reduced mobility: the main principles

All establishments open to the public (ERP) are required to comply with current legislation on the accessibility of their premises for disabled people or PRMs (People with Reduced Mobility). This includes public swimming pools, aquatic leisure centres, specialised aquatic rehabilitation centres and balneotherapy centres. The law requires special facilities for disabled people or those with reduced mobility to mark out routes and movements within the establishment, make parking easier, and improve signage and lighting. This advice sheet sets out the main principles to be borne in mind and applied in terms of accessibility, with a particular focus on municipal swimming pools..

What do the laws say about the accessibility of municipal swimming pools in France?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first text to set out the fundamental rights to which every citizen is entitled. This declaration emphasises the principle of equality for all. People with disabilities must therefore have equal rights and opportunities with other citizens. So access to leisure and sport is one of those fundamental rights that must include every citizen, whatever their disability.

Law no. 2005-102 of 11 February 2005, on Equal Rights and Opportunities, Participation and Citizenship for All disabled persons, it stipulates that the architectural provisions of establishments open to the public must be such that these premises are accessible to all, regardless of the type of disability, particularly physical, sensory, cognitive, mental or psychological. Sports facilities, including public swimming pools, are therefore directly affected by these provisions. The French Construction and Housing Code sets out the general rules applicable to buildings open to the public – see article L. 111-7-3.

Under this law, public swimming pools must be accessible to all disabled people and must be equipped with devices to enable them to be welcomed and used in complete safety. These may include, for example, access ramps, wheelchairs, pool lifts or brackets, launching seats, handrails, adapted manoeuvring areas, non-slip surfaces, adapted changing rooms and specific signage, etc.

Public swimming pools must also have staff trained to welcome and accompany disabled people, and must put in place assistance procedures adapted to the needs of disabled people. EIn the event of failure to comply with these obligations, those responsible for public swimming pools may be subject to criminal and financial penalties.

How can you make your pool accessible to people with reduced mobility or disabilities?

  1. The pathway outside the pool: The ground must be hard (no loose soil: sand, gravel, etc.) and the pathway passable, with no obstacles and guide strips. Staircases should be fitted with a handrail and warning strips (BEV), and can be circumvented by installing a ramp or PRM platform lift.
  2. Entrance/accueil: The width of the doors must be adapted to the passage of a wheelchair and the pathway at the entrance to the facility must not be at an uneven level. The floor must be non-slip and the signage adapted. Finally, the reception desk must be accessible from a seated position and be equipped with a magnetic loop.
  3. The pathway inside the pool: The floor must be non-slip and the pathway passable, with no obstacles and sufficiently wide lanes. Where there is a staircase, it must be fitted with handrails and BEVs. An alternative route to the staircase will have to be offered with the installation of a PRM lift or a PRM lifting platform. Finally, wheelchair users will be offered poolside wheelchairs adapted to the demanding environments of public pools.
  4. Cloakrooms: Cloakroom cubicles can be designed to suit the needs of disabled people, with grab rails, special surfaces and seats to enable them to change. Pool wheelchairs can also be collected after this stage..
  5. Shower/toilet facilities: Like changing rooms, these must be of a suitable size, with grab rails, non-slip flooring and no obstacles to the movement of swimming pool wheelchairs.
  6. The foot bath: The foot bath must be equipped with a handrail and its access slope must allow a swimming pool wheelchair to move around. If the foot bath is not wheelchair-accessible, provide secondary access.
  7. Beach and pool: The floor must be non-slip and the beach free of obstacles and changes in level, particularly to allow the movement of swimming pool wheelchairs. At least one of the pools must be suitable for disabled people or people with reduced mobility. A fixed poolside lift can therefore be installed.. There are also mobile pool lifts that can serve several pools in the same establishment.
règles d'accessibilité à respecter pour les piscines municipales

How many disabled people are affected?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 15% of the world’s population lives with disabilities on a daily basis. In France, 12 million people are affected by a disability, i.e. 1 in 6 French people. For 850,000 of them, their mobility is reduced.

It should be noted that motor disability is one of the most common types of disability in France. It can be caused by a number of conditions, including accidents, chronic illness, head trauma, etc. The people with motor disabilities may have difficulty getting around and carrying out certain activities of daily living, such as washing, dressing, etc. It is important to ensure that people with motor disabilities moteur have access to facilities and services tailored to their needs, to enable them to live independently and participate fully in social and cultural life. This includes public places and municipal pools. As we have already seen, the French law on equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities includes provisions to ensure that accessibility and adaptation of public and private facilities for disabled people.

Yet physical and sporting activities, an essential part of social and local life, remain inaccessible to many people with disabilities or reduced mobility. Municipal infrastructures, including swimming pools and aquatic health and leisure centres, are often unsuitable for accommodating them in good conditions. However, 87% of people with disabilities say that taking part in sport or an activity is essential for their well-being.

Infographie : chiffres clés des piscines municipales en France, sport handicap et accessibilité

But how many disabled people swim and go to the pool regularly? It is not easy to give a precise percentage of disabled people going swimming in France, because they are no specific data on this subject. Disabled people’s participation in leisure and sporting activities can be limited by a variety of factors, such as the accessibility of equipment, financial barriers, the availability of appropriate support services, and so on.

However, it is important to note that French law requires public swimming pools to make their facilities accessible to disabled people. and to put in place systems for their reception and use in complete safety. This should enable a growing number of disabled people to enjoy the benefits of physical exercise and recreation.. It is also possible that some public swimming pools offer swimming sessions adapted for disabled people, which could encourage more people to take up this activity.

In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what the numberspan is, because it’s not the profitability of the various pieces of equipment made available that is the target (patient lifts, wheelchairs, launching seats, etc.), it’s compliance with the regulations.. Having said that, the simple fact that a municipal swimming pool is investing in this equipment to help and assist the people with disabilities or reduced mobility can be a factor of  differentiation, therefores  attractiveness compared with other establishments in the region. Particularly if management goes beyond the strict legal minimum, this develops the business while providing the pool of a voluntary and inclusive policy that has a positive impact on the municipality’s image.