Accessibility and swimming

Another thought-provoking post by a wonderful guest blogger 🙂

Accessibility and Swimming
Having been born with a disability, spina bifida, and requiring crutches to ambulate, I have always found exercise to be a major challenge. This is particularly true for those of us who live in climates where it snows for half the year as it does here in Canada. Time and again, rehab professionals have recommended swimming as a work out that is particularly suited for people with disabilities. And yet significant challenges remain as I was recently reminded.  
I travelled with an able-bodied friend (I will call her Jane for the purposes of this blog to preserve anonymity) to attend a wedding and they had a swimming pool and whirlpool at the hotel. Unfortunately, I forgot my swimming trunks and decided I would simply accompany my friend while she swam. However, as soon as I entered the pool area, I found it extremely treacherous because of the slippery surface throughout the pool area. Crutches would not gain any traction as on ice. Although there was a lifeguard on duty, she simply ignored us. Eventually, Jane was able to move a pool chair to the edge of the whirlpool and she helped me remove my leg brace and shoes so that I could dip my feet in the whirlpool. Having never used a whirlpool before, it was one of the best experiences of my life. However, had I not had Jane with me, the extremely slippery surface would have made it all but impossible for me to participate. As it was, I fell down on the way out but luckily did not break any bones.
Unfortunately, this is a structural problem not confined to one pool. When I took swimming lessons a few years back, the pool change rooms were equally hazardous. Those of us who do not have access to wheelchairs, which I am hardly in a position to buy for one activity, face the dismal choice of not participating, risking injury or crawling (which many find demeaning). None of these choices is very appealing. With an array of OT programs in North America and the technology to send people to the moon, I would hope that an OT discovers a way to allow crutch users to participate more easily and independently in the fun world of swimming.
Ravi Malhotra is Associate Professor of the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa and may be reached at
Aug 02, 2012 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: 1