A new type of litigation has arisen under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its regulations, in particular regulations relating to descriptions of accessibility features of hotel rooms. As we have previously writing, in recent years, ADA litigation over claims for Internet-based practices has primarily focused on the accessibility features of the websites themselves. However, many recent complaints have arisen based on an alleged lack of online specificity regarding the physical accessibility characteristics of hotels.
The DOJ has already promulgated regulations regarding descriptions of accessibility features, which state that a place of accommodation must “[i]identify and describe the accessible features in the hotels and rooms offered through its reservation service in sufficient detail to reasonably enable people with disabilities to independently assess whether a given hotel or room meets their related needs accessibility. 28 CFR Â§36.302 (e) (1) and following. However, there is no indication as to the specificity required except for a consent decree entered two months after the enactment of the amended regulations. In it, the hotel chain subject to the consent decree was required to include up-to-date information on accessibility features available in rooms across the chain, including information regarding room configuration. , accessibility amenities in available rooms and available views.
Although the DOJ has only taken this solitary action regarding accessibility descriptions, the number of lawsuits alleging such inadequacies has skyrocketed. In the final months of 2018, dozens of lawsuits alleging hotel and resort websites violated ADA regulations were filed. California, Florida and New York are the main states where this activity has been observed. Either way, the allegations are similar (as are some of the complainants). The complainants allege that the accused hotels do not go far enough in describing the features of each of the rooms, although they often fail to make claims that specify what they believe is required under the ADA.
There is no language to immunize a hotel provider from lawsuits alleging a lack of specificity in their descriptions of accessibility features, nor regulation or guidance to identify what the descriptions should include. Hospitality industry participants may consider adding a page to their website, with a clear and visible link on the home page, noting their venue’s accessibility specifications, such as the location of the ramps. for wheelchairs, automatic doors and any wheelchair accessible reception desk.
For rooms, hospitality providers may consider providing floor plans of accessible rooms with approximate measurements, and may consider listing accessibility amenities, such as visual alarms, doorbells, door levers to the room. instead of knobs, wall hanging rods, non-slip bathroom floors, – shower wands, and any other accessibility features specified. Proactivity and diligence are the only prophylactics available to help reduce the risk of these types of accessibility actions, but there is no panacea at this time.
To avoid getting caught up in these suits, we encourage any hospitality industry participant operating a website that offers an online reservation system to provide as much information as possible.