Hotels Must Comply with ADA Website Regulations
A surprising number of hotel operators (including large national hotel chains) have been late to understand (or at least implement) basic hospitality industry obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most know that they have to be physically accessible, but physical hotel access has limited functionality if prospective disabled guests cannot evaluate accessible rooms and features prior to making a reservation, or prior to check-in. The ADA addresses these issues squarely.
On March 15, 2012, revised regulations went into effect, imposing significant new Americans with Disabilities Act obligations on inns, motels, hotels and other “places of lodging.” The law requires that reservation made “by any means” must ensure that “individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms,” and must “identify and describe accessible features in the hotels . . . in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.”
Various courts throughout the country have held these requirements apply to websites through which reservations are taken. Since hotels and motels in the US almost universally accept reservations online, this is an area of the law in which operators of these businesses should be well versed. But incredibly, many become compliant only after a lawsuit has been filed for violation of these simple requirements. Hospitality industry legal advisors should come fully up to speed on these requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and advise their hotel and motel clients accordingly.
The requirements are clear and generally easy to implement. Hotels and motels are required to identify and describe accessible features of their common areas and guestrooms. As per DOJ guidance, “[t]his requirement is essential to ensure individuals with disabilities receive information needed to benefit from the services offered by the places of lodging.” Simply labeling a guestroom as “accessible” or “ADA” is insufficient because this does not give assurances that the room complies with all current standards for accessible design.
And even if a hotel room is in full compliance with current accessible design standards, it may still not be accessible to every disabled patron. For example, a compliant accessible guestroom may have a transfer tub, yet not be accessible to individuals requiring a roll in shower. Prospective disabled guests need to be able to identify specific accessible features of the guestrooms that they are reserving, and so when possible, accessible features should be described in specific detail within the accessible room description.
Common areas of a hotel are equally important to describe. There is little point describing an accessible room if it is serviced by inaccessible hallways, or if the entrance to the hotel itself is inaccessible. According to DOJ guidance, hotels built after the 1991 standards became law may simply state that they are totally compliant with those standards. But hotels built before those standards came into effect must provide information about the accessibility at entrances to the hotel, the paths of travel between hotel essential services, and paths of travel between hotel essential services and accessible guestrooms.
The trickiest part for hotels that were built before the 1991 standards, and which cannot comply with all of the new architectural standards, is that the guidance requires such hotels publicize physical features that do not comply with the 1991 standards. For example, if a doorway to an accessible restroom is narrower than required by law, its dimensions should be published. This creates inherent tension between informing prospective disabled guests about hotel features that are inaccessible, not wanting to publicize features that violate ADA requirements online.
Our firm has dealt with this situation a number of time, and we have come up with a number of solutions used to ensure that inaccessible features are fully disclosed to prospective disabled guests – who need that information to decide whether a hotel with work for them or not – while at the same time using verbiage that hotel owners can feel comfortable publishing online.
If you own or operate a hotel or motel and have any concerns about whether your reservation platforms or website are ADA compliant, feel free to call or email us for a free consultation.