Mary Lee Schab says she feels "like Ms. America" when she uses a new ladder designed to make it easier for arthritis patients to get in and out of the Olson Memorial Pool at Anne Arundel Community College.
The 78-year-old Annapolis woman is among a number of arthritis patients who have begun using the pool since the plastic ladder, with steps that dip into the pool at a 45-degree angle, was installed in February, thanks to a $2,000 grant from the Arthritis Foundation.
Nancy Buckman, a technical assistant in the college's Health and Physical Education division, said the ladder has given the swimmers a different sense of who they are.
"People can come in here and walk in on their own," she said. "No one likes to be waited on. They want to do it on their own. They feel like regular students."
John Dyson, 38, of Severna Park said he hated coming to the pool to alleviate the pain in his back after two major operations because he had to use a slow-moving pneumatic chair to get into and out of the water.
"It was kind of humiliating," he said. "The stairs made it less humiliating. It saves a little bit of your dignity."
Dorothy Nelson, 78, of Arnold, who has arthritis in her elbows and wrists, said she is "in seventh heaven" because of the ladder.
"This makes it much easier," she said.
Ms. Buckman found an advertisement for the ladder in a swim- ming magazine and decided it would be safer than the chair.
"If we had an emergency, we couldn't get people out," she said. "If we had an electrical problem, they would be stuck in the water and we wouldn't be able to get them out."
Ms. Buckman and Jan Thompson, executive director of the Southern Maryland branch of the Arthritis Foundation, applied to the national office for a grant with which to buy the ladder.
Ms. Thompson, whose office sponsors an arthritis aquatics class at the community college, said about one out of every seven people in Anne Arundel County has arthritis. About 40 million people nationwide are arthritis patients, she said.
Since the ladder was installed, membership in the class has increased from 15 swimmers in 1993 to about 60 today, Ms. Buckman said.
Catherine Reynolds had not used the ladder until yesterday and was grateful it was there.
"Both of my knees have been acting up lately," said the 62-year-old Severna Park resident, who has arthritis in her knees.
"It would have been difficult for me to get in and out of the pool with the normal stairs. For everybody who has arthritis, this is great."