The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is a civil rights law created to increase accessibility for millions of Americans with disabilities. The law was updated in 2010 and now calls for new ADA Standards for Accessible Design which included revised requirements, for everything from outdoor recreational areas to websites and online booking processes, to be implemented by March 15th, 2012. The crux of the law is to make sure that everyone, including those with disabilities, has access to the Internet.
There are approximately 41.3 million Americans with some form of disability. People with disabilities spend over $13 billion on travel each year and if able use the Internet to help plan and purchase.
It’s important to note that the 2010 ADA changes limit the obligations of third-party reservation operators that do not own the hotel such as the OTAs or GDS to have the same level of detailed ADA information on their websites compared to the property’s own website and online booking engine. In other words, the property is liable for any adherence to the ADA requirements.
This is just another reason to focus efforts on turning the hotel website into the main customer engagement tool and booking channel. Always ensure that the property website is updated and accurate because the obligation falls with upon the property owner.
Follow these simple steps to make sure the online channel is ADA compliant:
- On the hotel website, create a new ADA Amenities & Services landing page describing the ADA-compliant amenities and services at the property, positioning the hotel as an ADA-friendly property. Include information about the facility’s accessible entrance, wheelchair accessible rooms and other important accessible information (e.g. Information about the facility’s accessible entrances).
- On the hotel website, create a new ADA Rooms landing page describing the ADA rooms and their amenities. Make sure to include accessible room type, number and size of beds, type of bathing facility and in-room communication features (e.g. identify if the room has a shower or bathtub with handrails or roll-in shower).
- On the ADA-compliant online booking engine, if any ADA room is featured on the hotel website, then a user must also be able find it on the booking engine and it must clearly be referenced as such. All other rooms must be sold before accessible rooms can be sold to those without special needs. Accessible rooms may not be double-booked and they may not be placed back in circulation once they are booked by and a confirmation is sent to guests with special needs.
- Once ADA guests are on-property, ensure guests with special needs can reserve accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as all other guests Be sensitive to ADA guests. Training client-facing staff to use more appropriate terminology can make guests with special needs feel more welcome. Provide additional front desk training such as which ADA rooms are best suited for a guest with particular special needs, maintaining inventory lists of accessible rooms & features, and inquiring about members with special needs when reserving group travel. In cases of high occupancy periods, arriving guests with ADA room reservations should be properly screened to determine whether they qualify for an ADA room. If they do not, they should be given regular rooms and the ADA rooms kept only for qualified guests. Please note that not all disabilities and special needs are visible or immediately recognizable.
Gabriel Aponte is an account executive at HeBS Digital, a hotel digital marketing, website design and direct online channel strategy firm based in New York City.