REPORT FROM THE U.S.—New revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act are bringing hotel recreational areas under the watchful eye of the U.S. Department of Justice for the first time. And unlike other guidelines covered by the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, recreation areas do not qualify for safe harbor.
“The safe harbor does not apply to recreation areas. (In) those recreation areas you have to remove barriers where it is readily achievable to do so,” said Doug Anderson, a partner with LCM Architects, during a webinar series titled “Understanding the Obligations of Lodging Facilities to Meet the Needs of Customers with Disabilities.”
Safe harbor applies to elements that were already in compliance with the 1991 standards before the more stringent 2010 ADA standards go into effect Thursday.
For example, the 1991 standards require light switches to be no higher than 54 inches, whereas the new standards require them to be no higher than 48 inches. But if a hotel built before the enforcement date complies with the old standards, then it qualifies for safe harbor and the light switches do not have to be moved to comply with the 2010 revisions.
If an element is newly constructed or changed during renovations after Thursday, they must comply with the 2010 standards.
Because recreation areas were not previously covered in the 1991 standards, hotels cannot already be in compliance and thus do not qualify for safe harbor.
“However, the question for an existing facility is, can this be done in a readily achievable manner—easily accomplished without difficulty and expense? That is going to be a case-by-case basis for every property,” said John Salmen, founder and president of Universal Designers & Consultants.
A hotelier must go to considerable lengths to prove the removal of a barrier is not readily achievable, he added. That typically means opening up one’s books to prove it is not financially possible or having hard evidence to show a change is not physically feasible and would damage the structure of the property.
Salmen and Anderson highlighted several hotel recreation areas that will be affected by the 2010 revisions:
The requirement that has received the most attention in recent weeks is pool lifts, the webinar moderators agreed.
Under the new provisions, pools under 300 linear feet must have one means of access, which must be either an ADA-compliant lift or a sloped entry. Pools with greater than 300 linear feet of pool wall must also have a second means of access, which can either be another lift or ramp or a transfer wall, a transfer system or pool stairs.
The Department of Justice expects all pools and spas will have pool lifts in place by the Thursday deadline or by the time the pool opens for the season, Salmen said, unless the hotelier can demonstrate that installing a lift is not readily achievable.
Pool lifts must be fixed to the pool deck, he explained—which is a slightly new wrinkle that was clarified in DOJ guidelines within the past two months.
“This is probably the No. 1 issue that has been raised by our clients in the hospitality industry,” Anderson said. “… A lot of entities had purchased portable lifts, and this clarification came out that basically said you can't use a portable lift unless you can show that it is not readily achievable to provide a lift that is permanently installed.”
Other important guidelines surrounding lifts:
- Pools and whirlpools cannot share lifts.
- Lifts must be able to be used independently.
- If batteries are required to operate the lift, the battery must be fully charged at all times.
Hoteliers that do not meet the new guidelines should be prepared to pay deeply, Salmen said. The DOJ will issue fines of $55,000 for first offenses and fines of $110,000 for each subsequent offense.
The key issue in exercise rooms is clearance space, the moderators said.
“At least one of each type of equipment is required to be on an accessible route and have clear floor space adjacent to the equipment so that somebody is able to park their mobility device there and then get out of that device and transfer or may be able to walk and get on to this piece of equipment,” Salmen said.
More than one piece of equipment can share the same clear floor space, he said.
“This is going to have implications on how your fitness rooms are laid out, and (in) a lot of small fitness rooms you will have to do rearranging or potentially may even have to lose a piece of equipment in order to try to provide these clear floor areas,” Anderson added.
Saunas and steam rooms
Hotels must have accessible routes into saunas and steam rooms. Further, they must have enough space within the rooms so guests with disabilities can turn around and get out, Salmen said.
“So doors have to be compliant as per the door criteria with 32 inches of minimum clear opening width. The pressure on that door can't be more than five pounds. The thresholds for those doors have to be compliant,” he said.
Benches in hotel locker rooms and steam rooms can be as little as 42 inches with a depth of 20 inches to 24 inches, Salmen said.
“But in these new rules we are now required to have a maneuvering space in front of the bench and at one end of the bench so that it is (easier to slide over) from the wheelchair seat onto the seat of the bench,” he said.
Benches must be attached to a wall or provide a back rest so users will have something to lean against, Salmen added.
Every aspect of the golf course must be accessible, Salmen said.
“Basically an accessible route to tees, greens and practice greens, any amenities such as snack bars and ball washing devices—they have to be accessible,” he said.
Cart paths must be five feet wide with curb openings every 75 yards.
Golfers who require special carts that allow them to play from a seated position must be allowed to bring their carts onto a course. However, the golf course operator does not need to provide these special carts, Salmen said.
Operators can restrict standard golf carts from greens and other areas of the course that are easily damaged. They cannot, however, restrict the special carts, he said.
Marina and other waterways
The new ADA standards provide new guidelines regarding the transportation of guests with disabilities on docks, piers, boats and other waterways.
The key, Salmen said, is to ensure these areas are accessible for guests of all ability levels.
“Also, we are finding increasingly, people are providing access to beaches by things such as this beach chair, or sometimes there are surfaces that can be rolled out on to the sand and then rolled back up … when the tide changes that will provide a stable surface,” Salmen said.