A man and a miniature horse walk into a hotel lobby. The man asks the hotel receptionist if she has any rooms available …

If you are waiting for a punch line, there won’t be one. Pursuant to the new Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) regulations, public accommodations are required to make “reasonable modifications … to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability …”

The above scenario is just one of the many changes brought about by the Department of Justice’s amendments to its regulations implementing Title III of the ADA. The amendments were signed by the Attorney General on July 23, 2010 and will be published in the Federal Register as a Final Rule in the near future. The Final Rule will become effective six months after publication.

The Final Rule will contain six substantive changes, one of which is likely to affect your hospitality business. The following is a brief summary of the amendments in each of the six substantive areas:

Recreation Facilities

New construction and alterations standards have been imposed for recreation and public facilities, including but not limited to amusement rides, boating facilities, fishing piers, golf courses, playgrounds, swimming pools, exercise equipment, jails, prisons, and courthouses.

The Revised Accessible Design Standards are applicable to all new construction and alterations where the building permit is received on or after eighteen months from the publication of the Final Rule. Existing facilities in compliance with the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design will not be required to adhere to the 2010 standards until they are subject to a planned alteration.

Ticketing Venues

Public accommodations must ensure that wheelchair spaces and companion seats are provided in each specialty seating area that provides spectators with distinct services or amenities. Accessible seating must be provided at cost not exceeding the normal ticket price for seats in that particular section. Venue operators must identify and describe the seating in sufficient detail and provide maps or other materials to identify the seating locations.

In addition, the rules provide guidance on the sale of accessible ticket seating, the sale of season tickets, the purchase of multiple tickets, the hold and release of accessible seating to individuals without disabilities, pricing, and fraud prevention. A venue is required to accommodate a disabled individual who purchased tickets for inaccessible seating on the secondary ticketing market only if its accessible seating is not sold out.

Service Animals

The regulations define a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” As noted above, in some cases a miniature horse will be permitted to substitute for a dog. Regardless, the work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.

Public accommodations facilities may remove a service animal from their premises only if: (1) the animal is out of control; or (2) the animal is not housebroken. The service animal should be on a leash unless the owner’s disability prevents the use of a leash or the leash would interfere with the service animal’s work performance. Still, the animal must be under its owner’s control by other means.

A public accommodation may make only two inquiries of a patron with a service animal. It may ask: (1) whether the service animal is required because of a disability; and (2 what work the animal has been trained to do.

Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

The rule draws a distinction between wheelchairs and “other power-driven mobility devices.” The latter are mobility assistance devices that are not used solely by individuals with disabilities, such as the Segway® PT, golf carts, electronic personal assistance mobility devices (“EPAMDs”) and the like.

Wheelchairs and manually-powered mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, canes, and other similar devices must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use. Other power-driven mobility devices must be permitted unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that such use would interfere with legitimate safety requirements.

A facility may ask an individual using a power-driven mobility device for credible assurance (including a State-issued disability parking card, State-issued proof of disability, or an uncontradicted verbal representation) that the mobility device is required because of a disability.

Effective Communication

Video remote interpreting (“VRI”) is an interpreting service that uses video conference technology over dedicated lines or wireless technology offering high-speed, wide-bandwidth video connection that delivers high-quality video images. The rule now allows VRI services to be used as an aid to provide effective communication. As a result, the Department has established performance standards to govern the use of VRI.

If a facility offers a customer the opportunity to make out-going phone calls on more than a convenience basis, like a hotel, the facility shall make telephones available for an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing or has a speech impairment. In addition, a public accommodation cannot require an individual with a disability to bring along his or her own interpreter.

Hotel Reservations

Hotels and similar facilities must modify their policies to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as non-disabled individuals reserving inaccessible rooms.

Places of lodging must: (1) identify and describe accessible features in enough detail to permit disabled individuals to assess whether a guest room will meet his or her needs; (2) ensure that accessible guest rooms are held for use by individuals with disabilities until all other guest rooms of the requested type have been booked; (3) reserve, upon request, accessible guest rooms and remove those rooms from the reservations system; and (4) guarantee that the specific accessible guest room reserved will be held for the customer with a disability.

An exception to this rule is made for individual guest rooms or other units not owned or substantially controlled by the entity that owns, leases, or operates the overall facility. Timeshare and condominium properties that operate like hotels, however, are subject to the Final Rule.