“Reasonable modifications.” Those are the operative words for hospitality industry managers to keep in mind in considering whether they are in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The problem? Define “reasonable.”
Since the ADA first went into effect in 1990, hospitality has been challenged, perhaps more than any other industry, to comply with the mandate that places of “public accommodation” make every effort to identify and remedy access to barriers posed to persons with disabilities. Making hotel guest rooms and suites, meeting rooms and common areas and restaurant spaces, not to mention parking ramps and pedestrian walkways accessible was good business anyway. Now, it was law.
Code revisions in 2010 and 2012 created a legal grey area by allowing for “reasonable modifications,” with safe harbors provisions: Any of a facility’s elements built or altered before March 15, 2012 that complied with the 1991 standards did not need to be updated to the newer code.
It sounds simple enough. When fast food chains are retrofitting restaurants, what’s reasonable under hospitality ADA compliance – a giant ramp or taking orders curbside? The idea is to consider “readily achievable” barrier removal, so ADA requirements might be best served with a slightly steeper sloped ramp instead of a step – as long as that doesn’t pose a worse safety hazard. And if a ramp can’t be built, curbside service is a viable option.
Complying with the reasonableness test sounds like common sense. Maybe it’s not so easy, though, when you consider that these are boom times for ADA Title III lawsuits, which jumped by 17 percent in 2017 and were expected to hit 10,000 in 2018 – 30 percent ahead of 2017’s pace. That’s been largely driven by websites that complainants say fail to comply, but there have been plenty of other causes for action and the hospitality industry is a frequent target.
- The Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago was sued for violating the ADA for various violations, like improper grab bars in restrooms and hotel bar counters that were too tall.
- A Manhattan restaurateur shuttered his Italian eatery after “serial” ADA suits by one disabled person over his restaurant’s lack of a wheelchair ramp.
- And a new potential risk may lie in the ADA accessibility of electric vehicle charging stations many hotels are offering as a guest service.
Many of the ADA lawsuits are for comparatively easy things to check for under the reasonableness test and fix, making it smart to do a regular walk-through of your property or facility. This assessment should consider:
- Auditing building design accessibility – exits, doorways, bathrooms, bar areas – to ensure a person with a physical disability can be accommodated. Doors are wide enough for wheelchairs, with ramps versus stairs. Grab bars are appropriately placed. Alternatives to high top bars are available.
- Evaluating layout of furnishings to avoid restricting movement to persons in wheelchairs, with canes or crutches or a service dog. Tables aren’t jammed together. Chairs are pushed in.
- Reviewing areas not subject to ADA safe harbor rules, like swimming pools, and making sure they are in compliance.
- Training staff on the best ways to assist guests who have disabilities. That includes understanding the difference between service dogs and emotional support dogs and what this means in terms of your organization’s responsibilities.
The ADA has gone a long way in making public places more physically accessible to persons with disabilities. Complying with the law’s mandates hasn’t always been easy for the hospitality industry, but “reasonable” is something it at least can shoot for.
HUB International’s team of brokers is available to work with you in understanding and managing risk and insurance issues at your organization.