Lawsuits claiming that a hotel’s website does not sufficiently describe the property’s accessible rooms and amenities are the latest trend in Title III ADA litigation. These lawsuits are cropping up all over the country, but there are things that hoteliers can do to minimize their risk of becoming the next target.
The ADA’s Title III regulations, adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1991, contain several requirements for reservations. See 28 C.F.R. § 36.302 (e). Among other requirements, the regulations provide that a lodging facility must “[i]dentify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.” See 28 C.F.R. § 36.302 (e)(1)(2).
The DOJ has not specified what information must be included in every instance but has provided some guidance, which we have summarized below. Refer also to Title III Regulations 2010 Guidance and Section-by-Section Analysis § 36.302(e) Hotel Reservations (“DOJ Guidance”). Such information should be included on the property’s website and on third-party sites where customers are directed, e.g., a third-party booking site linked to the hotel’s main site.
For hotels that were built in compliance with the 1991 standards, it may be sufficient to:
- Specify that the hotel is accessible; and
- For each accessible room, describe the general type of room (e.g., deluxe executive suite), the size and number of beds (e.g., two queen beds), the type of accessible bathing facility (e.g., roll-in shower), and communications features available in the room (e.g., alarms and visual notification devices).
For older hotels with limited accessibility features, information about the hotel should include, at a minimum:
- Information about accessible entrances to the hotel, and the path of travel to guest check-in and other essential services.
- Information about the accessible route to the accessible room or rooms.
- For each accessible room, a description of the general type of room (e.g., deluxe executive suite), the size and number of beds (e.g., two queen beds), the type of accessible bathing facility (e.g., roll-in shower), and communications features available in the room (e.g., alarms and visual notification devices).
- Information about important features that do not comply with the 1991 standards. For example, if the door to the “accessible” room or bathroom is narrower than required, this information should be included (e.g., door to guest room measures 30 inches clear). This width may not meet current standards but may be adequate for some wheelchair users who use narrower chairs.
- In the case where services are provided through alternatives to barrier removal (e.g., by providing check-in or concierge services at a different, accessible location), reservations services should include this information and provide a way for guests to contact the appropriate hotel employee for additional information.
In line with some court opinions and in order to enhance the guest experience, it may be useful to also include the information below regardless of the property’s age:
- The location of accessible parking.
- Whether valet parking is available and the cost. (Guests with disabilities cannot be forced to pay for valet parking because accessible self-parking is not available.)
- The hotel areas/amenities that are accessible, such as check-in, common area restrooms, business center, restaurants, etc., and recreational areas, such as the pool, tennis court, fitness center, and spas.
- A toll-free, 24/7 staffed telephone line where guests can inquire about accessible amenities.
For large properties with multiple facilities/amenities, it may make sense to provide a site map designating the location of accessible amenities.
Furthermore, it is critical that staff (both on site and off) are properly trained to interact with guests with disabilities, respond to questions, and provide additional information regarding the property’s accessible features and guest rooms, such as the specific layout of the room and bathroom, shower design, grab-bar locations, etc. (See DOJ Guidance.)
Of course, the information provided about the property’s accessible features must be accurate, and the property itself must be compliant with the ADA and applicable state and local laws. Otherwise, a hotelier faces the risk of another all-too-familiar scenario: drive-by lawsuits alleging that the property has physical barriers to access.
Stay tuned for the next article on this topic.
Stephanie N. Moot and Carol C. Lumpkin are partners at the Miami office of K&L Gates LLP.