Disabled pool access deadline looming for US hotels

U.S. hotels yet to install pool and spa lifts or sloped entries for disabled guests under the Americans with Disabilities Act may soon face prosecution from the U.S. Department of Justice after January 31.

In fact, Petra Risk Solutions, a Cerritos, California-based insurance broker for the hospitality industry, is encouraging hotels that do not have a pool lift installed to close their pools.

“If you cannot get a pool lift installed by January 31, then close your pool until you can get a lift installed. If your pool is closed, then a lift is not required until you open the pool up again to guests,” said Todd Seiders, director of loss control at Petra. “There will be no further grace periods. There are no waivers.”

Although imposition was delayed last year, all indications are that the Department of Justice will not change its position that the pool lift requirement will be enforced on January 31 and pool lifts must be “fixed” to the extent readily achievable. Guests must be able to use the lifts independently, without assistance from hotel staff.

This includes:

  • Provide at least one means of entry, either as a pool lift or slopped entry, as long it is “readily achievable”
  • Have the pool lift out in position and ready for use all hours the pool is open
  • Each pool or spa must have a separate means of entry (except there are special rules for clusters of spas)
  • Pool lifts must be attached to the pool deck or apron in some manner unless it is not readily achievable to affix them

The cost for owners can range from about US$4,000 to US$15,000 for purchase and installation lift and even more for building a sloped entry.

“The lift can be $$3,000 to $6,000. Installing it can be from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on if you have to do construction work,” said Kevin Maher, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “As far as a sloped entry, it isn’t going to make sense for retrofitting a new hotel as it is a much more costly expense.”

There is an opt-out for hotels that can show marking the pool or spa ADA-accessible is not “readily achievable,” either because of technical or cost considerations. However, taking that route could involve litigation, as exactly what would deem installing the lift or sloped entry at a pool or spa not readily achievable has not been defined by the Department of Justice.

AH&LA is encouraging all its members to become compliant with the new regulations.

“We’re recommending that hotels take steps to make sure they are in compliance,” Maher said. “They may not have to comply with the requirement at this time.”

AH&LA noted that the Department of Justice will not pursue enforcement of the fixed lift requirements against those who have purchased otherwise-compliant portable lifts before March 15, 2012 as long as they are kept in position for use at the pool and operational during all times that the pool is open to guests. Property owners who purchased a portable lift before March 15, 2012 appear to be exempt from the requirement to conduct an ongoing analysis regarding whether a fixed lift is readily achievable.

AH&LA also noted that the requirement could leave hotels open to lawsuits should a guest be injured by their use of the lift.

“I would expect that there could be incidents involving travelers with disabilities or not that may sue a hotel, even though they were following a federal law,” Maher said.

AH&LA lobbied against the requirements since the Department of Justice announced in January 2012 that the installation of permanent lifts, as opposed to portable lifts that only some U.S. hotels have, would become mandatory before March 15, 2012. The government later pushed the date back to January 31, 2013. The standards for disabled access to every on-property pool and hot tub were adopted in 2010.

In addition to pool and spa access, U.S. hoteliers should also be aware of other new property-wide requirements.

“Industry attention has become overly focused on the fixed pool lift issue, at the expense of critical focus on enterprise-wide ADA compliance,” said By focusing on the pool lift controversy, there is a tendency to forget about a number of other significant changes under the new ADAAG Standards such as the expanded reservation policies, practices and procedures, condo-hotel requirements, website accessibility, providing auxiliary aids and services and Telecommunications Relay Services. Such limited focus may cause you to lose sight of the Department of Justice’s recent enterprise-wide ADA settlements with hotel giants like Hilton Worldwide,” said Jim Butler, partner & chair of Global Hospitality Group at the Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell law firm.