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Hotels, Service Animals, and the ADA

What Places of Lodging Need To Know About The ADA and How We Can Help

Why Website Developers Need To Test For Accessibility

What Places of Lodging Need To Know About The ADA and How We Can Help

Many hotels and other places of lodging, when they think about the ADA, think about the obligation to install ramps and other architectural obligations. The ADA, however, is far more complex, and imposes many other obligations, as discussed below. Please contact me at mdubin@ADAexpertise.com, or call me directly at 305-896-3000 to see how we can be of assistance.

The ADA imposes requirements that address a wide range of obligations:

• Architectural –
These obligations are set forth in the federal ADA Standards for Accessible Design. They are enforced by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, and through private litigation. State and local building code officials have no jurisdiction over these obligations, and no enforcement authority. It Is essential that your architect understand the ADA Standards, not just the Florida Building Code. Far too often, business owners find out that their architect failed to comply with the ADA Standards, and find themselves in federal court defending a federal civil rights lawsuit. In addition, when a business renovates a property, additional ADA obligations are imposed, obligations often overlooked until a lawsuit is filed. We provide you with guidance about what is required, and access to architects with extensive experience and expertise in the ADA Standards.

• Reservations Requirements – Describing the Accessible Features of Rooms and Making Changes to Reservation Policies -
In an update to the title III ADA regulations, the Justice Department imposed new obligations upon places of lodging that are intended to assist guests with disabilities to in their efforts to make reservations for accessible rooms, requiring information to be provided about the accessible features of the accessible rooms (e.g., layout, roll-in shower or tub, etc.) and the accessible features of the property that are significant to one making a reservation (e.g. lift at swimming pool, accessible parking, accessible path to the front desk, etc.). The regulation imposes several other obligations as well. ADA litigants have increasingly filed lawsuits against properties that violate this obligation. We can help. I serve as an expert in federal court across the country, and as a consultant to hotels seeking to come into compliance.

• Accessible Websites –
In addition to the reservation requirements, the ADA requires websites to be usable by and accessible to visitors with disabilities, under the effective communication obligations of the ADA. To achieve this, the Justice Department has required businesses to take the necessary steps to ensure that the website is properly coded so that visitors with vision loss, who use adaptive equipment such as a screen reader, can utilize their site using a screen reader. They have also required websites to be accessible to visitors with hearing loss, requiring videos to be properly captioned. In addition, the Department has required websites to be accessible to users with other disabilities, including those who cannot use a mouse, but instead, use keyboard shortcuts to utilize the site. The sites must be usable by those utilizing adaptive equipment. To accomplish this, in its settlements of investigations concerning website compliance, the Justice Department has repeatedly required businesses to come into compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an international Standard that sets forth strict standards for accessibility of websites.

Far too often, however, visitors with disabilities are finding that the websites are not in compliance with WCAG and the ADA, are inaccessible, and are not usable. And, as a result, ADA litigation against businesses, alleging inaccessibility of their websites, is exploding. According to a recent article:

“People with disabilities are filing hundreds of complaints each year to vendors that have a strong online presence and provide supplemental services via websites and mobile applications that don’t comply with modern WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards. According to Law360, over 240 federal ADA website compliance lawsuits were filed in 2016 alone. As stated by Seyfarth Shaw, the trend continued through 2017 with an astonishing 814 ADA website accessibility lawsuits filed. A more recent Seyfarth Shaw Synopsis states that web accessibility cases filed to federal court showed no signs of stopping during the first 6 months of 2018 and there have already been at least 1053 ADA lawsuits filed. Most of them were coming from California, New York and Florida residents with disabilities.”

To address this, business owners are turning to their website developers with an expectation that the websites they have purchased are ADA compliant, only to find that the web developer lacked expertise in what was required, and did not properly test (or test at all), the site the client paid for. Automated testing is one way to assess the accessibility of a site, but even the best automated testing systems have severe limitations, and miss violations that serve as the basis of an ADA lawsuit.

For example, many websites have videos that are not captioned, or poorly captioned. Automated testing may be able to identify that captioning is missing, but manual testing is needed to assess the quality of the captioning. Many website developers simply do not adequately test for this. As a result, visitors who are deaf are suing businesses (and state and local governments) for posting information on the site that is inaccessible. Mistakes in coding the site also result in photos being inaccessible to the blind user, with the screen reader simply skipping over the photo for lack of proper coding by the web developer. Similarly, some websites pose problems because of poor color contrast, or links that lack discernable text. Visitors with disabilities are finding that the websites discriminate on the basis of disability, and either file a complaint with the Justice Department, or hire an attorney and sue the business.

We can help you and we can help your web designer, to reduce your risk of being sued. We collaborate with experts in website accessibility, and can test your site manually, with automated testing, and with adaptive equipment used by the disability community. Our associates know the ADA and WCAG requirements, and have decades of experience. After a preliminary discussion, we provide you with pricing and a scope of work, and assist your web developer address the violations. If your web designer has not talked with you about what they are doing to comply, and what they are doing to test their site, it is time to ask them. Then, call me, and see how we can help.

• Swimming Pools, Spas, and Lifts –
Places of lodging are facing lawsuits by guests with disabilities who are demanding that the property’s pools and spas have pool lifts. Existing properties must provide a lift, if doing so is readily achievable, and often mistakenly think they are exempt. We provide guidance about the ADA’s requirements, in an effort to minimize your risk of ADA litigation.

• Service Animal Policy –
While many places of lodging have a policy of welcoming guests with disabilities who are accompanied by a service dog, many do not have a lawful policy that complies with the requirements of the ADA, and ask questions that are unlawful, or demand paperwork or other indicia that the dog is a service animal, demands that violate the ADA. We provide you with a lawful policy, train your staff, and test your staff, to identify weaknesses and improve their response. Call us to see what we can do for you.

• Serving Guests with Disabilities –
Places of lodging are facing a challenge – more and more people with disabilities are traveling and looking for services. Guests with service animals, vision disabilities, hearing disabilities, mobility disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and other disabilities are protected by the ADA, and the number of people with disabilities is increasing. According to the Justice Department:
“Data provided by the Disability Statistics Center at the University of California, San Francisco demonstrated that the number of adults who use wheelchairs has been increasing at the rate of six percent (6%) per year from 1969 to 1999; and by 2010, it was projected that two percent (2%) of the adult population would use wheelchairs. In addition to persons who use wheelchairs, three percent (3%) of adults used crutches, canes, walkers, and other mobility devices in 1999; and the number was projected to increase to four percent (4%) by 2010. Thus, in 2010, up to six percent (6%) of the population may need accessible guest rooms.”
We provide your staff with training in what they need to know when serving guests with disabilities.
Contact us to see what we can do for you. 305-896-3000