When the Department of Justice announced a nine-month extension to the compliance date for existing pools and spas to meet ADA requirements for accessible entry, it was a victory for the lodging industry. “Fair and sensible,” AH&LA President and CEO Joe McInerney said of the March extension until next Jan. 31.
It wasn't a change, or promise of one, on the DOJ's January guidance that pool lifts must be “fixed” and not portable and only available upon request. But the delay will allow the DOJ to “continue to educate covered entities about their obligations under the 2010 Standards…and to address misunderstandings that could lead covered entities to take unnecessary and counterproductive steps….” It will also allow hoteliers to continue to lobby and educate the DOJ and Congress on why a fixed pool lift isn't the best solution.
At the least, it allows hotels to avoid the issue through this summer season and establishes a new deadline several months before most pools around the country open next year. Yesterday, though, the other side showed up at the doorsteps of the AH&LA's office in Washington D.C.
Called an “All Access Pool Party,” several hundred disability activists led by the American Association of People with Disabilities, ADAPT, the National Council on Independent Living and the National Disability Rights Network protested what they're calling a full-scale lobbying effort by the lodging industry to block equal access.
"Let's be clear on what this is really about: Giving people with disabilities less than other customers who pay for a hotel room," said AAPD President and CEO Mark Perriello. "In America, we don't treat any group of people differently. That's called discrimination. The American Hotel & Lodging Association and its member hotels are flexing their muscles to get our government's permission to treat us as second-class customers. Well, guess what? We have power, too. We're not waiting on the sidelines.”
I haven't seen any mainstream press on this protest, but if the battle wages publically during the next six months, hoteliers need to be careful how they position their opposition to the DOJ's guidance. Telling someone who is in a wheelchair or someone who can't see or hear that installing a pool lift isn't “readily achievable” or an undue hardship is not the way you want your argument framed. If it comes to that, it's not hard to imagine which side of this issue the public will be on.
Hoteliers don't want to deny equal access for disabled guests. But they also don't want to close their pools for good or spend more money than necessary for a solution that brings safety concerns. If there's a safer, easier and less expensive solution for all sides, let's find it. Hopefully the rhetoric lessens, on both sides, and all parties can get together to find a reasonable solution in the next seven months.