StarGuard Elite

StarGuard ELITE Blog



Working with people who have disabilities while Lifeguarding

Jessica Gray
SGE Client Partner


Pools and waterparks are serving a more diverse population than ever before, which is awesome! Lifeguarding adults and children with disabilities is extremely rewarding, but also can create unique challenges. According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability, “Swimming has mental health benefits, improves behavioral outcomes, improves physiological well-being, has physical health benefits, increases muscle endurance, and can enhance skills at performing transfers in and out of a wheel chair.

Pools provide the unique ability to offer exercise, play, and education from infants to centenarians, and everyone in between. As operators, risk managers, lifeguard instructors, swim instructors and lifeguards, it is our responsibility to keep everyone safe when visiting our facilities. So, what are some things that we can do to educate our teams to provide the safest environment for everyone, including patrons with special needs? We will focus on three areas.


1) Educate your staff

Take the time during your preseason trainings or seasonal in-service to train staff on the wide variety of people with disabilities that they may encounter while working their shift. Starting with using people first language is one of the easiest things you can do to make people with special needs feel comfortable. For example, you always want to refer to a person first, and then the disability. (a child with autism, women who uses a wheelchair, person with a physical, intellectual, or cognitive disability). Other trainings could include basic sign language to communicate with people who are heard of hearing or Deaf. Train your staff on how to use chair lifts in your pools as well as some basics on ADA. Another training could be asking someone from your local Special Recreation Association to come in and educate your staff on communicating with children who have a variety of special needs and the best ways to approach and communicate with them.


2) Educate your patrons

Utilize signage and announcements to make everyone who visits your facility comfortable. Look at your chair lifts and make sure they are in good repair and are ready to be used alone by patrons who may need them. Do you have equipment such as a water wheelchair or other tools that could be useful to people with physical disabilities? If so, have them out and readily available for use. Be sure to make it well known that your facility welcomes people of all abilities and create a positive atmosphere whenever possible.


3) Communicate with camps or groups who may be visiting your pool before they visit.

Communication is very important and must begin prior to their visit. Include questions that may give your staff a heads up that someone with special needs will be visiting and find out what can be done to best accommodate them. It is very common that organizations who serve persons with special needs will want to meet with pool staff before they visit so pool staff know how to best communicate and even lifeguard or teach different persons in the group. If you can provide counselors the opportunity to meet before they come, the environment will be safer and more enjoyable for all.


These are just a few quick pointers to providing a welcome and safe aquatic community. Taking the time to provide some extra training and education to not only your staff, but your community and patrons. It is extremely rewarding to take a step back and look around your pool deck or waterpark and witness people of all abilities utilizing your facility in a fun and safe manner!