New bleachers spark questions on accessibility of Spieker Aquatics Complex pool

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Update 10/02/18: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Blaise Borr, an Oakland resident who frequents Spieker Aquatics Complex.

New portable bleachers have been installed at the south end of the pool at Spieker Aquatics Complex — and for some disabled individuals, this raises concerns about access to the pool.

Dan Mogulof, campus spokesperson, said in an email that the bleachers are temporary and only in use during home water polo competitions. These bleachers came as a “surprise” to Ellen Greenblatt, a Bay Area educator whose wheelchair-bound friend Blaise Borr uses a wheelchair lift to get in and out of the pool.

“The new bleachers near the chairlift were a surprise, and (the lifeguards and I) had to angle Blaise’s wheelchair in order to get him in and out of the chairlift, but we managed,” Greenblatt said in an email. “Of course we did block the pathway while we were doing that!”

Mogulof said all the wheelchair lifts on campus, including the one at Spieker Aquatics, are designed to be portable. He said they were never supposed to be a permanent fixture — instead, lifeguards are supposed to be available to assist those who need the wheelchair lift.

Temporary bleachers were positioned to allow for more than 4 feet of clearance from the edge of the pool rim, providing “an accessible pathway from the door to the permanent bleachers on the East side of the pool,” Mogulof added in an email.

Greenblatt said the lifeguards are always very “cooperative” when it comes to moving the wheelchair lift, and other patrons who know how to use the wheelchair lift also assist if the lifeguards are busy.

“I think the university is committed to accessibility in the pool,” Greenblatt said in an email. “The guards are unfailingly nice and professional, but the chairlift is pretty old.”

Ying Mei Tcheou, a Berkeley resident who has been swimming at Spieker for years, affirmed these sentiments. She said the staff are always willing to help, but she added that the wheelchair lift “has never been in great condition.”

Tcheou recounted a story of how Borr, who she met while swimming at Spieker over the years, had to wait for more than two and a half months at one point in time to swim in the pool because the wheelchair lift was broken and there was no extra lift.

“I know we have a tight budget, but I thought, you know, ‘Couldn’t there be a fund to help this person?’ ” Tcheou said. “I just felt sorry for him, and I felt ashamed for UC Berkeley.”

Mogulof added that alongside the permanent bleachers on the east side of the pool, the campus also installed a new wheelchair ramp, which is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, earlier in the year in order to provide easier entrance to the pool from the ground level.

“In sum, we believed the continued availability of the lift, combined with ADA compliant bleachers and the construction of a new ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp have made the Spieker Aquatics Complex more accessible than ever,” Mogulof said in an email.

The campus’s attempts to make Spieker more accessible are still in progress, Borr said.

“It’s a little bit harder to position my chair … to make the transfer from the pool chair to my chair, but other than that, it’s okay,” Borr said. “The ramp to get up to the pool is a bit steep, but I’m able to do it with some fellow swimmers.”

Contact Mani Sandhu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ManiSandhu24.