Like a flood, cases challenging hotels’ compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act website rules keep coming. People with disabilities want information about accessible features so they can confidently book rooms online and travel independently and safely. Fortunately, a recent case clarifies what is required.
A wheelchair-using would-be guest at the Gateway Hotel Santa Monica (Calif.) consulted the hotel’s website in search of a suitable room. He clicked on “accessible rooms” and “view details.” The type of room was described, as well as the size and number of beds and the type of accessible bathing facility. In describing some of the other features, the site used adjectives like “lowered,” “raised” or “accessible” but provided no further information.
Plaintiff disparaged these descriptions as “vague” and “conclusory” and alleged a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The additional information he sought included the width of the aisles in the hotel, the width of the entrance and interior doors and the height of bathroom sinks. Plaintiffs in other like cases wanted to know whether the space next to the bed is sufficient to transfer from the wheelchair, whether the desk and bathroom sink have sufficient knee and toe clearance, whether the restroom mirror has been lowered and whether grab bars have been mounted in the shower.
The Gateway Hotel’s site, like many, included a staffed telephone helpline for additional details about accessible features.
The hotel claimed its website complied with relevant law.
The Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, issued updated ADA compliance guidelines for hotel websites in 2010, covering 250 pages. Those rules state, in relevant part, as follows:
For hotels that were built in compliance with the 1991 [ADA] standards, it may be sufficient to specify that the hotel is accessible and, for each accessible room, to describe the room type, the number and size of the bed and the type of accessible bathing facility. For older hotels with limited accessibility features, information about the hotel should include, at a minimum, information about accessible entrances to the hotel, the path of travel to guest check-in and other essential services and the accessible route to the accessible room or rooms.
In the decision in the Gateway case, the court stated the hotel website need not list whether the facility complies with every ADA accessibility guideline. Further, said the court, the use of the term “accessible” is not merely conclusory but rather means that the features so described comply with those guidelines. Noting the availability of the helpline, the court held that defendant’s website was in compliance and dismissed the case.
A word of caution: If you describe your facility or any of its features as accessible, be sure they comply with the ADA standards.
Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and Distinguished Professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law.