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The Time to Think About ADA Compliance is NOW!

If your hotel is not up to snuff for ADA requirements, you could be missing out on business.

Monday, July 02, 2012
Stacy Campbell-Viamontes
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Hotels, motels, resorts, inns, and sleeping establishments have long made adjustments to their facilities, policies and practices to comply with the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, which establish what makes an Establishment “accessible” under the ADA.

However, a slew of new rules came into effect on Marh 15 and you may not be in compliance of those newly instated rules – pool lifts aside! The ADA 2010 Standards—which updated the 1991 Standards and detail the technical rules for building accessibility— are now in effect and Establishments must now follow the new standards.

March 15 was also the deadline for Establishments to ensure that their reservation policies and systems are compliant with the 2010 Standards and fully accessible to disabled persons.

The 2010 standards apply both to the guest rooms in Establishments and any bars, restaurants, stores, and recreational facilities available to guests. Modification of policies and procedures is required when necessary to serve customers with disabilities, remove barriers to accessibility in existing Establishments, and make sure that newly built or altered Establishments are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Opening Doors to a Community with Spending Power
While substantial work and continuing diligence are necessary to become and remain complaint with the applicable ADA standards, the rewards are well worth the efforts. In addition to protecting your Establishment from the risk of ADA lawsuits, accessible establishments also open their doors to a community that has $175 billion dollars in discretionary spending. More than 18 percent of the U.S. population has a disability, and each member of it is a potential guest. In addition, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over the age of 65 by the year 2030 and will be demanding accommodations that meet their age-related physical needs. Inaccessible Establishments miss an opportunity to tap into the spending power of the disabled community. But, having an accessible Establishment creates a win-win situation for business and people with disabilities alike.

What Do You Need to Know?
The ADA has “general nondiscrimination” requirements and “facility accessibility” requirements.

General nondiscrimination requirements include “reasonable modifications” to: policies and procedures to ensure accessibility; policies that allow service animals; and procedures that ensure effective communication with the disabled. Most modifications involve only a minor adjustment in existing policies, such as allowing a front desk receptionist additional time at check-in to help a person with an intellectual disability to read reservation instructions and guest room information. Some Establishments have a “no pets” policy that may unnecessarily exclude disabled persons who use service dogs. A clear policy permitting service animals can help ensure that employees are aware of their obligation to welcome customers with a service animal.

Communicating successfully is an essential part of servicing guests. The ADA requires Establishments to take steps necessary to communicate effectively with guests who have hearing, speech and vision disabilities, and the rules provide great flexibility in developing practical solutions. For example, if a deaf person has questions at check-in or check-out, or would like assistance from a concierge during his or her stay, exchanging written notes may be effective. However, an interpreter may be necessary for more complicated interactions. The Establishment’s overall resources—not a comparison of the interpreter’s cost with the guest’s amount of purchase—determine what constitutes an undue burden.

Facility accessibility requirements ensure that people with disabilities are provided with physical access to your Establishment and allow them to utilize and enjoy all of your accommodations during their stay. The 1991 Standards established what makes an Establishment accessible. The 2010 Standards retain many of those provisions but contain some significant differences which are key to determining if an Establishment is accessible under the ADA and whether the ADA’s “safe harbor” applies.

The safe harbor applies to: (1) Establishments built in compliance with the 1991 Standards; (2) alterations made in compliance with those standards; and (3) the removal of barriers to specific elements of an Establishment made in compliance with the 1991 Standards. Going forward, however, alterations to elements that complied with the 1991 Standards must comply with the 2010 Standards.

Establishments must also remove barriers to accessibility where doing so is “readily achievable,” i.e. easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. What is readily achievable is based on your Establishment’s size and resources. Examples of readily achievable barrier removal include installing an entrance ramp, widening a doorway, installing a fixed or portable pool lift, and moving tables, chairs, or other furniture that may create a barrier to accessibility.

The 2010 Standards also lay out accessibility-design requirements for newly constructed and altered establishments. Those entering into new construction should be mindful that the number of accessible rooms required is predetermined by guidelines from the U.S. Department of Justice and range from one accessible room for smaller Establishments to more than thirty for larger Establishments. The 2010 Standards also include requirements for guest room communication features, toilet clear floor space and recreational areas just to name a few.

Act Now, Not Later!
If your Establishment has questions, or would like more information about the general nondiscrimination policies or facility accessibility requirements, there are many resources available to help in your compliance efforts. Whether you consult with disabled members in the community; hire an architect, attorney or compliance specialist; or visit the ADA website (http://www.ada.gov), NOW is the time to think about ADA compliance!

∗ Stacy Campbell-Viamontes is a Litigation Associate in the Chicago office of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.
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Stacy Campbell-Viamontes    Stacy Campbell-Viamontes
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Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Stacy Campbell-Viamontes is a Litigation Associate in the Chicago office of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP
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RE: The Time to Think About ADA Compliance is NOW! article link
While I appreciate Ms. Campbell-Viamontes' attempt to put a positive spin on the government's latest attack on private business, I respectfully disagree this is a win-win situation. It is instead another big government win and small business loss. This is the point at which I have made the decision to simply say no to tyranny. My reasons are as follows:
* In 12 years as owner-operator of a small, non-destination hotel with a beautiful indoor pool and hot tub, there has been NOT ONE complaint or request from our disabled guests for a self-operated pool lift.
* We have had many disabled guests who have safely enjoyed our pool and hot tub, both of which have easy entry steps with hand rails.
* Virtually all our disabled guests travel with family members or friends who routinely assist them in using our facilities.
* Because of the above, the cost to install and maintain the required equipment is an unreasonable governmental intrusion into my private business.
* Installation of the equipment will further require hiring additional staff to insure the safety of our guests, because once a disabled person enters the pool and gets off the lift, the dangers of their being unable to get back onto the lift are obvious.
* Primary use of the lifts will be by children playing/swinging on them, resulting in repair costs and in injury to the children.
* Injuries to persons with disabilites and children will result in lawsuits against me and my business.
* My insurance rates will skyrocket.
* The government that required installation of this equipment will not indemnify me for the higher insurance rates, judgments, and legal fees that will be incurred.
* And by the way, I disagree that I operate a public pool. My pool is not open to the general public, but only to registerd hotel guests. Private lodging establishments were only included because the government specifically included them in ITS definition of "public" facilities -- another example of government overreaching.

Because of all this, we have decided to close our pool and hot tub facility. It will no doubt cost us some business -- not from travelers with disabilites as lifts have never been an issues with our disabled guests -- but from non-disabled people who want to use a pool. However, in the approximately 6 months that our pool has been shut down, about 75% of those who complained, fully agreed with our decision after learning our reasons for the decision.

We recently purchased a second inn, and have filled in the existing pool, and built a pavilion and fountain garden on the site.

I urge other owners, operators, and managers to stand up for the rights of business owners, and against the liberty thieves masquerading as "public servants".
Posted by: Mr. Philip Smith
Email: pgsmithlaw@gmail.com
7/3/2012

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