Integrating ADA Accommodations with Architectural Appeal
By Kathleen Pohlid Founder & Managing Member, Pohlid, PLLC | December 11, 2011
More stars or diamonds on a hotel quality rating potentially translate into a significant increase in room rates and revenues. However, regardless of the rating or luxurious facilities offered, hotel ownership and operators will find that non-compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) can be very costly. Hotel elements can be integrated with ADA accommodations to achieve both legal compliance without compromising architectural appeal and design. Several ADA requirements and elements are important to consider towards achieving this goal.
Since the ADA was enacted in 1990, it prohibited places of public accommodation from discriminating against persons with disabilities and required such places to be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with ADA standards. The ADA defines places of public accommodation to include places of lodging which contain more than five rooms for rent or hire that are inns, hotels, or motels. The 1991 Standards for Accessible Design (1991 Standards) set forth accommodation requirements for hotel parking, hallways, common areas, restaurants, and rooms.
On July 23, 2010, the Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA accommodation standards, published revised regulations, set forth at 28 C.F.R. Part 36, which went into effect on March 15, 2011. Section 36.304(d) of the revised regulations establishes options and criteria by which hotels and other places of accommodation may be permitted to continue to utilize the 1991 Standards or adopt the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards) as the standard for compliance. This option does not apply to elements newly scoped under the 2010 Standards which were not previously addressed under the 1991 Standards; those items must comply with the 2010 Standards.
Hotels that comply with the 1991 Standards as of March 15, 2012, may continue to utilize those standards for ADA compliance providing they do not make any alterations or renovations affecting the accessible elements. Hotels that are newly constructed or which make renovations or alterations to accessible elements on or after March 15, 2012 must comply with the 2010 Standards. Furthermore, an establishment's compliance choice - either the 1991 or 2010 Standard – applies to its entire facility. Therefore, it is important that establishments examine their facilities now for compliance and consider which option will best facilitate their goals towards achieving ADA compliance and architectural and customer appeal.
Although the ADA provides an exception for structural impracticability, DOJ recognizes this exception only in "rare circumstances when the unique characteristics of terrain prevent the incorporation of accessibility features." Furthermore, to the extent the exception applies, facilities are to make portions of such features "accessible to the extent that it is not structurally impracticable." In most cases, this means that hotels will be required to ensure full compliance with either the 1991 Standards or the 2010 Standards.
Below are key considerations and principles to address in integrating ADA compliance into architectural appeal: