On March 15, 2012, the new regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act applicable to all places of public accommodation, including stores, restaurants, hotels, and countless other public areas go into effect.  The rules are aimed at increasing the accessibility of these places for persons with disabilities.  Some of the major changes to the regulations will directly impact hotels, especially those providing amenities such as pools, spas, and golf courses.  Importantly, because these standards were not in place when the previous regulations were issued, there is no “safe harbor” for previously existing facilities, and all public accommodations must comply by this date. 

The Hit List:

Hotels have long been required to offer accessible rooms to persons with mobility impairments or other accessibility needs.  Under the revised regulations, however, the reservations systems and recreational facilities offered by hotels must also be accessible to all users.  While the new regulations impact many parts of a property, certain critical alterations must be complete by March 15, 2012:

  • Reservations Systems.  Hotels must ensure that persons with disabilities have the same access to the property’s reservation system as other users—for example, if a guest seeking a traditional room can make a reservation on-line, a guest requiring an accessible room must also be able to do so.  It is no longer permitted to restrict reservations of accessible rooms to phoning the front desk during business hours.  In addition, the property must identify the accessible features in guest rooms and amenities to enable guests to determine whether the features meet their specific needs.  Properties must also be careful to avoid double booking accessible rooms—reservations for these rooms must be confirmed, and the room must be removed from the reservation system to avoid accidental double-booking.  To ensure the information is readily available, it is prudent to train staff to answer questions relating to accessible accommodations.
  • Swimming Pools, Spas, and Saunas.  A major change to the design standards require that pools and spas be equipped with accessible means of entry.  Swimming pools must have at least two accessible means of entry, one of which must be a pool lift, a transfer wall, or a transfer system.  Spas must offer at least one accessible means of entry.  Steam rooms and saunas are now required to provide accessible clearance space and seating.  The regulations do provide the property with some flexibility to determine which means of accessible entry will best suit the facility, provided the strict requirements are met.
  • Golf Courses.  Public golf courses are also included in the new regulations.  Golf courses must offer an accessible route or golf cart path from the tee box to the fairway and onto the greens.  In addition, a percentage of the teeing greens and putting greens, as well as weather shelters, must be accessible.  The greens must allow a golf cart to enter, park, play the hole, and exit.  Facilities with practice areas such as driving ranges must ensure at least a portion of the areas are accessible. 
  • Fitness Rooms.  Properties that offer fitness areas must ensure that the exercise machines are placed on an accessible route and provide transfer space for persons using wheelchairs.  At least one of each piece of equipment offered must be easy to access.

The new design standards are extensive and specific. Beyond the standards described here, the new regulations impact many other areas, including accessible guest rooms, ATMs, and service animals.  Failure to comply with the particular scoping requirements can lead to suits from private individuals who are unable to access the facility or an investigation from the government.  If you have any questions about the new standards, or need assistance in auditing your property for compliance or removing barriers, the attorneys at Gardere are ready to help.