Aquatic leisure facilities

Outdoor and indoor sport and recreation settings vary considerably in their design, size, use and location, from the venue for a chess game, to a football ground.

This section contains principles that can be interpreted and adapted to suit the indoor recreation setting of aquatic leisure centres.

This setting is described in terms of its role and use, outlining design principles to consider and to support use by everyone. Universal design key requirements and minimum standard access dimensions for specific elements relating to facilities and installations are provided for design that will assist in maximising the effective use of all areas.

The universal design key requirements have been developed as an easy to access checklist of issues to consider and the minimum access dimensions are based on the Australian Standards for Access and Mobility. While these Standards relate to the requirements of people with a range of access challenges and disabilities, they often generally improve access for all people.

Aquatic leisure centres

Aquatic leisure centres often incorporate facilities for a wide range of activities and include both wet and dry areas. Common elements include swimming pools for a variety of ages and abilities, spas, saunas and water play areas as well as multipurpose rooms for other activities such as exercise classes, child care and gymnasiums.

Some aquatic leisure centres are used for competitions such as swimming, diving and water polo, while others are used solely for non-competitive community recreational purposes.

Used by a wide variety of people, aquatic leisure centres are particularly important for children learning to swim and older adults who wish to participate in gentle water exercises to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They are also often a centre of choice for people with access challenges, as water provides opportunities for exercise and enjoyment by everyone.


An overhead view of an aquatic and leisure center setting.Figure 1: An example of an aquatic leisure centre setting

  1. Continuous accessible paths of travel free from obstacles should be provided
  2. Appropriate numbers of accessible parking bays to be provided
  3. Drop off areas that can cater for a variety of vehicles, e.g. bus, taxi or car, should be provided as close as possible to principal entry points

Design principles

The following key design principles should be considered when developing or upgrading aquatic leisure centres.


All elements within aquatic leisure centres should be connected via a continuous, accessible path of travel, for example, car parking, toilets, buildings, play spaces, drinking fountains, seating, swimming pools and other water activities. These elements should be linked so that anyone can easily move to and through all of them and participate in the activities and facilities provided.


Aquatic leisure centres require approach routes for both vehicles and pedestrians. These should be well signed with entry points that users can find easily. Use of environmental or architectural cues, a line of trees leading to the entry or similar structures that identify the entry points can assist.

Parking spaces for vehicles of various size and use, including cars, minibuses and bicycles, should be provided in any onsite car parking area. Consideration should be given to vehicles with side and rear loading capacity for people who may be using mobility aids, as well as enough overhead clearance to load and upload items stored on a vehicle’s roof.

Shade and shelter over some parking bays that may be used by people who take a little longer to enter or exit their vehicle are also useful. These bays should be located as close as possible to the principal entry points of the facilities provided. The ground surface of the parking area, particularly at designated accessible parking bays, should be level and free from loose material. Use of trees or shrubs that drop foliage or seed pods should be avoided.

An uninterrupted path of travel, free from any hazards or difficult or uneven terrain, should lead users from the car park to the entry points of the facilities.

Drop-off areas that can cater for a variety of vehicles, for example, buses, taxis or cars, should also be provided as close as possible to principal entry points.

Entry points

Entry points should be easily identifiable and incorporate effective contrasts to the background area. Points of entry, including site, paths, fields of play and building entrances, should be wide enough to cater for the access needs of all users. This includes people who may be using mobility aids such as twin prams, scooters or wheelchairs and, for example, an adult with a child who is walking but who needs to be held by the hand, or a person with an assistance animal. Other users might be people carrying bags, cases and equipment.

Consideration should also be given to the type and weight of any gates or doors that may need to be used to ensure they are not too heavy or difficult to operate.

Latches that can be used easily with one hand that are located at a low height for ease of use by a smaller person or someone using a wheelchair are important. Entry points that incorporate turnstiles, chicanes or queuing lines can be difficult for some people to manage and alternatives should be provided. Appropriate access through security gates, particularly during an event, should also be considered.

Concourse areas

Continuous, accessible paths of travel or concourse areas free from obstacles should be provided. They should incorporate alternatives to steps, be firm, stable and slip resistant and avoid excessive slopes and crossfalls whenever possible. Ramps with appropriate gradients, kerbs, handrails and landing and resting points should be provided where slopes cannot be avoided. Concourse areas should incorporate clear lines of sight at key decision making points, as well as visible and textural indication of any hazards, particularly at any location where there may be a pedestrian and vehicle conflict.

Concourse areas should be wide enough for people to easily pass each other when coming from opposite directions. The width of the concourse should be considered in light of the number of expected users, for example, in areas that attract many people, pathways should be wide enough to allow groups of people to pass each other, including users of a range of mobility aids such as prams, walking frames and wheelchairs.

All concourse areas should incorporate a non-slip surface, which is particularly important in wet areas of the centre.

Spectator areas

Spectator areas for everyone should be provided at various locations in the centre where activities are held. Consideration should be given to locations that will cater for users of mobility aids such as prams, strollers, wheelchairs, scooters and assistance animals so people can sit with family and friends.

All spectator seating and viewing areas must have clear lines of sight to the swimming pools, scoreboards and television monitors (wherever provided). Scoreboards should be easy to see and read from a long distance and incorporate audible alternatives.

Alternative scoring systems that assist people with hearing and vision limitations should also be provided. If a sound amplification system is provided, assistive hearing devices should also be installed to assist spectators with a hearing impairment. Assistance hearing devices can be used with or instead of hearing devices.

Any spectator areas along concourse areas should be designed so that people do not obstruct the path when stopping to view the activity. Spaces should be provided beside, but connected to, the path for effective use by everyone. A wider section of path or an extended area beside the path with a firm, level and slip-resistant surface should be available.

Consideration should be given to installing seating with backs and armrests at some of these locations with enough room for users of a range of mobility aids to sit off the pathway with other people.

Spectator areas that are installed above ground level, such as viewing platforms, should incorporate barrier-free access with kerbs, easy to grip handrails and safety barriers that are effective but don’t impede the view, particularly for a smaller person, a child sitting in a stroller or a person sitting in a wheelchair.

Tiered spectator areas or scoring towers can be made easier to use by considering the gradient of ramps and the incorporation of easy to grip handrails and the design of stairs, including using contrast nosings on the stair treads. Firm, slip-resistant surface finishes, provision of seating and hooped handrails at the end of seating rows, as well as shade and drinking water at the top, will also assist many people to enjoy the experience.

Seating spaces should also be deep and wide enough to enable a person to feel safe from falling if in a tiered spectator area.

Lifts should be provided in structures that are designed for spectators to view activities from levels above the ground.

Scoring and administration

Consideration should be given to the provision of accessible scoring and administration areas. This includes offices, score benches, viewing areas for scorers, scoreboards and audio announcements.

Scoreboards should be easy to see and read from a long distance and incorporate alternative scoring systems that assist people with hearing and vision challenges. If a sound amplification system is provided, hearing devices should also be installed to assist spectators with hearing impairment.

If separate areas are provided for officials, accessible facilities should be included, such as a unisex accessible toilet and shower available for use by males and females.

Landscape design

Landscape elements in outdoor spaces at aquatic leisure centres may include paths and garden beds, plants, trees and shrubs, as well as statues, sculptures, water features and a variety of other landscape elements. Consideration should be given to location, access, interpretation, usability and safety for everyone. Limitations to a person’s mobility, vision and hearing as well as the interpretation needs of both children and adults should be taken into account in the design and access to these elements.

Key design issues to consider are outlined below:

  • the selection and use of trees with foliage that does not overhang paths and drop branches, seed pods, berries or bark, which can create barriers for all users
  • use of landscaping design and elements to assist with wayfinding. For example:
  1. planting of shade trees and plants with different aromas and sounds that can assist users with wayfinding from the car park to the centre entry, as well as enhance the ambience of the space and create a sense of wellbeing
  2. a large sculpture near the entry of a building that can act as a key wayfinding element to assist users to find their way to the entry point
  3. consistent use of lightly textured paving, across a pathway to identify the direction to a viewing or seating area which assists people with limitations to vision and other people when looking for somewhere to rest
  4. easy to find and follow paths of travel created by use of low growing plants along path edges, to features such as spectator areas, seating water features or other key elements
  • installation of sculptures and structures that can be 'felt' as well as 'seen'
  • incorporating interesting seating designs, with backs and armrests, within landscape structures
  • effective maintenance of sight lines, particularly in spectator areas, at key decision making points, isolated locations where personal safety could be compromised or any family use areas such as playspaces and swimming pools.

Read more about landscape design.


Installations such as litter bins, seating, lighting, drinking fountains (incorporating a low height dog bowl), dog dropping collection points and other installations must be usable by everyone. These should be located off, but connected to, a continuous, accessible path of travel. People should be able to easily approach, reach and use the installations.

All installations should incorporate low height, easy to use controls that can be reached by a smaller person. They should incorporate adequate leg clearance underneath to accommodate someone who is seated. Consideration of the angles of approach and clear space for a person to move around the installations is also important.

Controls with large push buttons that protrude or extend beyond the surrounding surface or large levers are usually easier to use. Avoid any controls that require a person to use fine motor skills like ‘one pointed finger’ or that require a constant pressure to operate. The ability for one handed operation is preferred. Sensor operated controls that activate by sensing movement underneath or close to the installation also support ease of use.

The use of effective colour and luminance contrast to adjacent and background surfaces on installations and elements within installations will make them easier to identify and also assist with understanding how they are used.


All buildings should be located on a continuous, accessible path of travel from the car parking and pedestrian entry points of the aquatic leisure centre. They should provide level, step-free entry with no revolving doors or turnstiles and with wide door openings to accommodate all users, including people with mobility aids such as prams, strollers, wheelchairs or assistance animals. Self-opening doors are preferred, with effective contrasts across any glass doors or areas that could be mistaken for a doorway to ensure that the safety of users is not compromised.

Consideration should also be given to shelter close to, but not obstructing, the principal entries where some people may wish to store mobility aids while using the building.

Wide internal walkways and doorways, clear of any obstructions on the floor surface and walls, and areas to pass easily are important. Level, slip-resistant floor surfaces in both wet and dry conditions that do not incorporate any lips or tripping hazards should be maintained.

Access into each room of the building is necessary so that users can participate in all activities and utilise required facilities. Fixtures and fittings that can be accessed by a smaller person or a child, as well as someone who is seated, are necessary, for example, at customer service counters and information and display areas.

Adequate and accessible storage areas for equipment should be considered to meet the needs of facility users. Separate storage areas may be required where fuel operated equipment or chemicals are to be stored.

Any controls that are required to operate building elements, such as lights or doors, should be easy to grip, see, reach and operate and be supplemented with clear, concise instructions for use where necessary. These instructions should be provided in a range of formats, for example, written, audio and tactile, to ensure that all users can effectively interpret the information provided.

In multiple level buildings, either ramps with appropriate gradients or lifts should be provided to upper levels to support ease of use and movement. These should be easy to locate, with consideration given to the use of effective contrasts as well as raised tactile and Braille signage. Lifts should incorporate buttons that include raised tactile elements as well as Braille close to the buttons to support effective interpretation and wayfinding. Audio announcements should also be installed to identify floor levels.

Any stairs should incorporate effective contrast nosings on the stair treads. Stairs and ramps require easy to grip handrails and tactile ground surface indicators at the top and bottom.

Multipurpose rooms

Access into multipurpose rooms is necessary as well as access to any equipment or furniture and access through to activity areas including stages and podiums. Where possible, remote control units should be provided on any equipment or fixtures such as blinds, shutters or presentation equipment where operational access may be difficult.

Hearing augmentation should be provided in any multipurpose rooms where there is an in-built amplification system installed, for example, in areas where meetings or activities are held, such as exercise classes or gymnasiums, as well as around pool areas where announcements are provided to users or activation alarms are installed for the commencement of water or floor movement sequences, for example, wave pools, hydrotherapy pools or other interactive water play elements.

Captions on screens for people who may have limitations to hearing, as well as audio or tactile alternatives for people who may have limitations to vision, should also be considered. Good lighting is necessary for all users.

Retail outlets

Retail outlets provide an important income stream for aquatic leisure centres and are an important place to meet for users. Access to these spaces should be considered so that they can be used at all times when any area of the centre is open to the public. A continuous, accessible path of travel from the car park and all entry points, as well as identification within an effective wayfinding system, are critical.

Clear, clutter-free entry points, a low height customer service counter with adequate leg clearance underneath, a bell to attract the attention of sales staff and a clear area for interacting with staff are important.

Wide aisles with adequate room for people to easily pass each other, as well as room to move around easily for a person using a mobility aid such as a pram, wheelchair or assistance animal, are also essential.

Effective signage, large print price tags and name tags on staff support all users.

Consideration should also be given to the installation of hearing augmentation at any screened customer service counters and background noise such as radios and music kept to a minimum.

Kitchen, canteen or dining

Kitchen, canteen and dining areas should provide ease of access for everyone and incorporate a range of tables and seating heights and types for children and adults. There is a range of kitchens that may exist in an aquatic leisure facility, for example, for staff or commercial use.

Tables with extended ends so a person using a wheelchair can move underneath, lower height or adjustable benches, leg clearances under fixtures such as sinks and benches and access to taps, cupboards and equipment should all be considered.

Low height sections at bars and canteen counters, with adequate leg clearance underneath, assist a smaller person or someone using a wheelchair to reach the counter and interact effectively with people who are serving food and drinks. This also provides the opportunity for customers to easily view items on offer and make informed decisions about selections. Large print information regarding items for sale and prices (where relevant) assist everyone.

Hearing augmentation and signage indicating this is available should also be installed at any screened counter area to support people who may have a hearing impairment. Unnecessary background noise such as radios or music should also be avoided.

Toilets and change rooms

Toilets and change rooms should be available for use by everyone. In addition to male and female areas, unisex accessible toilets, showers and change rooms are required as these can be effectively used by children as well as adults, including people with a range of access challenges.

 Key elements to consider include:

  • located on a continuous accessible path of travel from the car parking and pedestrian entry
  • adequate room size and circulation space
  • wide door opening, with a sliding door where possible
  • easy to see and use door occupied indicator, handle and flushing control
  • appropriate grab rails at the side and back of the toilet pan
  • appropriate toilet pan distance from the side and rear wall
  • toilet paper that is easily reached from the pan
  • soap dispenser and hand dryer that are easily reached from the hand basin
  • hand basin at an accessible height with appropriate leg clearance underneath
  • baby change table where space allows
  • adjustable height shower head
  • non–slip shower seat with legs for support
  • grab rails on walls of shower
  • level, slip resistant floor surfaces in both wet and dry conditions
  • adult change table with a hoist
  • interconnecting change spaces with a lockable door in between
  • facilities for both left and right handed users
  • provision of ambulant accessible facilities which are useful for people who use mobility aids such as prams and strollers.

Read more about toilets and change rooms.

Family change rooms

In addition to male and female and unisex accessible toilets and change facilities, consideration should be given to the installation of some family change rooms to support use by families with several young children. Key elements to consider include:

  • baby change table
  • accessible children's toilet
  • accessible shower large enough for two people, for example, adult and child
  • seat with legs for support
  • adjustable height shower head.

Read more about family change rooms.

Adult accessible change room

In addition to male, female and unisex accessible toilets and change facilities, consideration should be given to the installation of some private, accessible adult change rooms. These will support use by adults with access challenges who may need assistance with changing and accessing a swimming pool. Key elements to consider include:

  • pool deck location to support ease of access, via a tracking hoist in the change room to or from the pool
  • accessible toilet
  • accessible shower
  • accessible adult change table
  • accessible hand basin and dryer.

Read more about adult accessible change rooms.

Child care

Child care areas should cater for both children and adults. Level access and alternative access through high, childproof gates should be provided. Consideration should be given to furniture and installations and accessible toilet and change facilities for both ambulant children and children with access challenges. Play spaces within child care areas should cater for all users and incorporate a range of play elements that support the inclusion of children with varying abilities.

Play spaces

Both wet and dry play spaces for children are often provided in aquatic leisure centres. Play provides important motivation for children to become active, engage with others, extend themselves and adapt and learn skills. There are many physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits that accrue from play.

Many people will be using mobility aids such as prams and strollers and others may also use wheelchairs, scooters or assistance animals.

Many grandparents will accompany children to activities in aquatic leisure centres. Good access is important for everyone.

Passive play spaces as well as play structures for water play, balancing, sliding, wave riding, rocking and rolling can all be considered. Access to and through each element is important and supports both cognitive and social play experiences. Some key elements of play areas include:

  • multipurpose play activities such as sand diggers, climbing equipment, ball courts, cubbies or swings
  • Interesting places or surfaces that suggest particular games or encourage activities such as rolling, hiding or running
  • vegetation, sand or loose materials that invite building, collecting or creative imaginative play
  • elements that provide acceptable risk, changes in surfaces and sensory elements that include tactile, audible and olfactory components
  • water play including sprays, bubblers, fountains, slides and other interactive water components
  • maintenance of clear sightlines to assist with supervising children.

Infrastructure that supports users such as direct access to toilets, drinking fountains, seats at various heights and shade and shelter over viewing areas is also important.

Swimming pools

Access into all pools via a range of alternatives – including level or beach entry or ramp entry – is essential. Installation of a hoist for access to the pool is useful for some users, however, this can attract attention, compromise people’s dignity and reduce independence. If a hoist or sling is to be provided as a means of pool entry, it should be designed to minimise the amount of time a person is on ‘display’ when in use. It could be incorporated into a change facility on the pool deck that allows direct access via a tracking hoist into the pool.

Handrails should be provided at all pool entry points and contrast nosings installed on any stair treads. Colour definition of the pool entry point can be helpful to all users, including children and older people.

Water accessible wheelchairs should be provided to assist users into the water when necessary.

Spas and saunas

Spas that provide level or ramped entry and saunas with wide door openings and adequate internal circulation spaces will be enjoyed by many people.

Alternative access through high childproof gates at spas should be provided, as well as operative components in spas and saunas that are easy to see and use.

A removable seat or two within any sauna provides easy access and control buttons that are large, easy to see and sit proud of the surrounding surface help ease of identification and use.


The availability of drinking water for both people and animals is important. Children and adults as well as people using assistance animals will require access to drinking fountains, bowls or other ways of obtaining drinking water. Drinking fountains that are easy to reach, have large lever handles for operation and incorporate a low level drinking bowl for an assistance animal support access for everyone. A firm, slip-resistant surface around the installation to support access is also important.

Wayfinding and information

A successful wayfinding system should minimise anxiety and confusion, should be easy to understand and allow for everyone to equitably access all information provided. Wayfinding relies on a succession of communication cues provided throughout an environment. Cues may be visual, audible or tactile.

A visual wayfinding system incorporating cues such as architecture, landscape design, fountains, flagpoles, lighting, landmarks and other orientation points should be developed for the aquatic leisure centre.

Signage is also a critical key element of an effective wayfinding system.

Signs and information about key features including swimming pool depths, interactive elements and components such as wave pools or other water activity features are essential. In addition, signage identifying the location of car parking, toilets and buildings must be freely available in a range of formats so that people can prepare to enjoy the aquatic leisure centre they are visiting.

Consideration should be given to four different types of signs:

  • identification
  • information
  • directional
  • safety or regulatory, prohibition and advisory.

It is important to ensure that everyone can effectively interpret and use these different types of signage within the environment.

Accessible signage incorporates the positive elements of traditional signage as well as alternatives such as Braille, tactile and audio elements and gives consideration to a number of other key components that impact on accessibility and usability. When designing accessible signage consideration should be given to the following:

  • language
  • location
  • content
  • typeface or font
  • letter spacing
  • size of letters
  • appropriate symbols
  • tactile and Braille
  • contrast and colour
  • illumination
  • alternatives to traditional signage, for example, audio.

Signage incorporating the international symbol of access or deafness should be used to identify accessible elements where appropriate.

Read more about wayfinding and information


Effective, glare-free lighting should be provided throughout areas that are likely to be used at night. This can include pathways, seating and building entrances and exits as well as areas that may pose a safety risk, such as at pedestrian and vehicle conflict areas, stairs and ramps and swimming pools. Switches for lighting should be either operated by a key stored in a lockable enclosure or locked in a controlled area accessible to authorised persons only. Accessibility should be considered when locating lighting controls, for example, installing the switch at an appropriate height.

Emergency exits

Emergency exits should be provided along a continuous, accessible path of travel to a nominated assembly area from all rooms within a building or pathways within the centre. Consideration must be given to all users including children, older adults and people using a range of aids such as prams, wheelchairs, hearing aids, assistance animals and white canes.

Fire extinguishers should be easy to reach for everyone and incorporate clear instructions for use.

Both visible and audible emergency alarms should be installed in buildings and around the site to assist all users, as well as a public address system for use by the fire service to assist in directing people along the most accessible path of travel given the building or site condition at any one time.

Emergency exits and paths of travel should be kept clear of obstructions at all times.

Equipment and other items stored in buildings should not create any barriers.

Evacuation maps should be installed at accessible heights, be easy to read and available in alternative formats to assist all building and site users.

An emergency evacuation plan that addresses the needs of all building and site users should be developed and practised during evacuation drills.

Checklist of key elements

Consideration must be given to universal design in aquatic leisure centres relating to a wide range of key elements. In relation to aquatic leisure centres the key elements include:

Paths of travel

Car parking, set down and waiting

Entrances and exits

Building and facilities

Toilets, showers and change rooms


Communication and information