New Disability Access Rules for Hotel Recreational Facilities

By Kathleen Pohlid Founder & Managing Member, Pohlid, PLLC | January 16, 2011

Co-authored by Soy Williams, AIA, Soy Williams Consulting

Recent changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations require many hotels and resorts to make significant changes to their recreational facilities by 2012. The new ADA rules include specifications for recreational boating areas, exercise machines, golf facilities, play areas, swimming pools, saunas, steam rooms, and court sports facilities. Legal compliance is not the only reason to take note of these new rules. Since one out of every ten persons today has a disability, these accommodations make business sense, providing an opportunity to increase sales and services by expanding the hospitality market to travelers with disabilities and their companions.

Disability access to recreational facilities at hotels and resorts is becoming increasingly important. Recent changes to the regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act add supplemental requirements for recreational elements including boating areas, exercise machines, golf facilities, play areas, swimming pools, wading pools and spas, saunas, steam rooms, tennis and other court sports facilities. With U.S. Census reports that 12% of Americans have a disability, this poses a significant potential demand for access.

Although the new regulatory requirements present legal compliance obligations to establishments in the hospitality industry, these changes also provide opportunities to broaden the market base. The Census reports that over 40% of adults 65 and older identify themselves as having a disability and projects that the number of people 65 years and older will more than double from an estimated 35 million in 2000 to 71.5 million by 2030. These trends likely translate into a growing demand for disability accommodation within the hospitality industry.

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The ADA, enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and their companions. Title III of the ADA requires places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with ADA rules and for architectural barriers in existing facilities to be removed when it is readily achievable to do so. The 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design set forth the specifics for such accommodation requirements. On July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder issued amended ADA regulations, including among other changes, supplemental requirements for recreational elements which were not addressed or scoped within the 1991 standards. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which have been approved and become effective on March 15, 2011, require compliance by all Title II (Public Entities) and Title III (Public Accommodations and Commercial Entities) by March 15, 2012.

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