Change is Around the Corner

As the implementation deadline of March 15, 2012, for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) newly updated Accessibility Guidelines draws near, many hoteliers are in the process of reviewing their properties to determine what changes need to be made. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has made numerous changes to the ADA—many of which may have significant and/or costly implications for lodging operators.

Since the DOJ announced the regulatory changes late last year, AH&LA has been working to educate our members on the implications. You can find several webinars, relevant articles and advisories, as well as instructive documents, on our webpage at AH&LA is also working to produce a lodging-friendly guide to the ADA changes and AH&LA’s Educational Institute recently produced an ADA service video.

AH&LA has been intimately involved on ADA issues over the past 10 years, urging DOJ to take concerns of feasibility into account and find solutions that work for guests and businesses. During this time, AH&LA hired legal counsel, filed comments, analyzed the implications of proposed changes, filed public comments, testified at public hearings, and met with numerous federal government and congressional officials to press our industry’s concerns. To be sure, without AH&LA’s efforts the new guidelines would have been untenable for many properties.


So what are the most important modifications in the ADA? While the lodging operator is responsible for the hundreds of changes to the ADA covering nearly every aspect of a lodging operation, we wanted to bring a handful of issues to your attention. Here are 11 issues you need to know about.


A disabled guest must be able to make a reservation in the same manner as a non-accessible guest. In addition, the hotel must take additional steps to ensure the accessible reservation is honored and held; and the hotel must be able to identify accessible and non-accessible features of a property.

Water Closet Clearances

The clearance in and around an accessible guestroom toilet has changed and may force some properties to make alterations, which may include moving pipes, wires, and walls. DOJ notes that if the clearance space currently complies with the previous ADA Standards, there is no need to retrofit; this element has “grandfather” protection until a future date when the bathroom is altered.

Power Mobility Devices

All common publicly accessible pathways in and around a hotel must be made accessible to power mobility devices, which may include motorized wheelchairs, Segways, or golf carts. In the rare case that use of the device would provide a hazard (perhaps due to weight issues or narrow passageways) these devices could be restricted.

Vanity Equity
The ADA no longer allows differences in guestroom-bathroom vanity size. Take for example a non-accessible guestroom that has a 5-foot vanity while an accessible guestroom has a 4-foot vanity to comply with toilet clearance regulations. This is no longer allowed under the ADA.

Service Animals

The ADA now defines a service animal as a dog or a miniature horse (used by those who are allergic to dogs) and also allows a lodging operator to ask two questions: Does the animal provide a service? What services does the animal provide? The operator is not allowed to ask for a certificate or verification of service training.

The DOJ has expanded the accessible parking requirements, which may necessitate businesses to add additional parking spaces and accessible pathways. While under previous rules, one accessible pathway to a parking location was allowed, now all pathways need to be accessible.

Guestroom Door Signage

The DOJ has changed the measurements for an accessible signage, which may necessitate operators moving and/or more carefully measuring the location of these signs.

Pools & Spas

The DOJ has now added requirements that all pools have at least one means of accessible entry, which may be a lift or a sloped entry (a second is required for pools larger than 300 linear feet). This requirement also applies to children’s wading pools and spas.

Reach Range Requirements

The DOJ narrowed the upper and lower reach range requirements for a person in a wheelchair. This change may affect the placement of telephones, light switches, outlets, environmental controls, closet rods, location of iron, changing tables, self-service buffets, and other elements.

Exercise Equipment

An accessible path to each type of exercise equipment is now mandated by the ADA. This path may be behind the equipment, however.

Service Counters

The DOJ narrowed the design options available for a front desk service counter, eliminating such features as separate flip-up counters.

If a particular element of a property does not comply with these new 2010 ADA Standards, it is considered a violation of law. While some elements need to be addressed by March 2012, some elements in a hotel may comply with the older 1994 ADA Guidelines and receive “grandfather” protection and no change is immediately required. The DOJ may file a lawsuit in federal court to enforce the ADA and, if it prevails, may obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violations. Visit the AH&LA website at for more information on the ADA.