Meeting Mentor Magazine

April 2021

Update to Americans With Disabilities Act

Hotels Need to Comply With 2010 Revisions
Finally in Effect, But ‘Pool Lifts’ Get Extension

When Congress updated the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2010, it gave hoteliers an 18-month window before they had to comply with new regulations that remove further barriers for guests with disabilities.

That date arrived on March 15, 2012, for changes that widen floor space around toilets and lavatory counters; provide full-depth sales and service counters; improve access to recreation areas; expand the list of acceptable service animals (with no reservation surcharge, though damages can be charged to guests); and make reservation systems (online and by phone) more accessible.

The change of most concern to hoteliers — specifically pool lifts — received a 60-day extension on compliance until May 15 from the Department of Justice.

“Until January 31, we thought a portable lift, made available on request, would satisfy [the requirement], since it could be locked in place,” said Kevin Maher, senior vice president of governmental affairs, American Hotel & Lodging Association. However, the January guidance from the Justice Department, according to AH&LA, stated that portable lifts complying with all requirements would not be acceptable unless a fixed lift was not readily achievable. This meant that virtually all properties would need to install a permanently fixed lift for each pool. In response, AH&LA requested clarification since hotels had just six weeks until the compliance deadline.

The Justice Department published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with a 15-day comment period (which ended April 4) on a possible six-month extension to allow pool owners and operators to meet their compliance obligations. AH&LA filed comments maintaining that key requirements outlined in January were never raised for public comment at any point in the rulemaking process. “Delaying the untenable compliance date and allowing portable lifts will provide pool operators time to implement the necessary changes without the fear of lawsuits,” said AH&LA president/CEO Joe McInerney.

The new technical requirements concerning the accessibility of recreational facilities, such as swimming pools, spas and golf courses, do indeed represent the “most significant of the ADA changes in terms of impact on hospitality,” said Christie Hicks, senior vice president, Starwood Sales Organization.

Still, the 2010 ADA law allows for “safe harbor” when hotels are in compliance with some of the standards for accessible design set out in the original 1990 law. Take the clearance requirement around a guest room toilet. If the hotel’s toilets comply with the earlier standards, “it does not have to rip out walls and change the vanities,” said Maher. “When you renovate five years down the road, you’ll follow the new standard.”

Will ADA changes increase room rates? Starwood, for one, has not changed its pricing strategy in light of the revised standards. What it has done is update and implement operational and reservation-related policies and procedures — such as welcoming service animals and permitting the use of power-driven mobility devices — and require hotel management teams to train their associates on compliance.

AH&LA is making educational materials and resources available to its members, including a service video it produced late last year that hoteliers can use to augment their training programs. — Maxine Golding

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