In March 15, the new 2010 ADA Standards take effect for new and existing properties. Is your property ready? Below we review some of the most significant changes that will affect the lodging industry. The new regulations are a mixture of newly covered elements, changed standards, and “grandfathered” elements. Compliance with many of these new standards could be expensive, but failure to comply could be even more costly.
How did we get here?
It is important to know that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act for more than 20 years. Changes to the ADA have been under consideration for the past 10 years, with input from AH&LA at every step. AH&LA hired legal counsel and an economist, met repeatedly with the Justice Department and White House officials, held countless industry meetings and calls, submitted comments, and testified at various public hearings.
AH&LA was successful in representing the lodging industry’s interests along the way. Many onerous proposed changes were withdrawn due to AH&LA’s efforts.
In the summer of 2010, DOJ announced the conclusion of a 10-year effort to update ADA regulations by issuing what are known as the 2010 Standards. Since these standards were issued, AH&LA has focused on educating its members of their compliance responsibilities. In addition, AH&LA has asked DOJ for clarification on several key points.
AH&LA has developed several tools for our members to assist in compliance with the new ADA regulations. We encourage our members to visit www.ahla.com for copies of our webinar series, memos, informational documents, our new ADA Guidebook for compliance, and a new video titled, “Enabling Independence: Service for Guests with Disabilities,” produced by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute.
What should the hotel industry be focused on?
The most difficult, costly, and troubling changes to the ADA involve pools and the requirement for operators to provide one or more means of entry for a disabled guest. All pools and spas must provide at least one means of entry that is either a lift or a sloped entry unless it is not readily achievable for them to do so. Larger pools (300 or more linear feet) must have a second means of entry, which could be a lift, sloped entry, transfer wall, transfer system, or pool stairs. Wading pools must have a sloped entry as long as it is readily achievable.
A lodging operator will want to ensure a disabled guest has access to pools and spas at any time these facilities are open to the public. If a guest has to wait to be given access to the facility, this would be considered discrimination under the ADA.
AH&LA has asked DOJ for additional clarification on this important issue. AH&LA raised the concern with DOJ that most pools do not have lifeguards on duty. Therefore, a permanently affixed lift may be an injury concern to children or others who play with the equipment, leading to injury or equipment damage. We have requested DOJ to allow portable lifts as an acceptable option that would be made available upon request. Any DOJ response will be communicated to our members.
The 2010 Standards add new requirements for health clubs for the first time. Hotel operators will want to review the layout of their health clubs to ensure appropriate clearance is provided in and around the club as well as around equipment. The new standards require one of each piece of equipment be made accessible for guests. Access at the rear of some equipment may be acceptable, such as a treadmill. This may force a redesign of health clubs or even equipment reductions to comply.
One area DOJ has provided helpful guidance for the new 2010 Standards is with service animals. The ADA now defines a service animal as a dog or a miniature horse (most the size of a large dog). This guidance resolves confusion over defining a service animal. In addition, a lodging operator can now ask the guest if the service animal is needed to provide a service and what service it has been trained to do. A guest cannot be asked to verify a disability nor prove that a service animal has been trained. The new 2010 Standards also clarify that under certain circumstances a service animal can be removed from a property.
A lodging operator will need to review all practices and policies addressing a number of other areas such as reservations, ticketing, power mobility devices, and effective communications. The 2010 Standards add many new requirements on the lodging industry in these areas. In addition, changes in the 2010 Standards may affect property alterations, new construction and barrier removal now or in the future. A property must be in compliance with all of these requirements by March 15 or they will be in violation of the ADA.
The impact of these new ADA changes on the lodging industry cannot be understated. The costs are substantial and the details are significant.