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.