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Mr. Thomas G. Daly Corporate Director of Safety Hilton Hotels Corporation 9336 Civic Center Drive Beverly Hills, California 90210 Dear Tom: I am writing in response to your letters regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I apologize for the delay in responding. The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities having rights or obligations under the Act. This letter provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA's requirements. However, it does not constitute a legal interpretation and it is not binding on the Department. Your first letter asked a series of questions regarding the rental of hotel rooms to guests with disabilities. Your second letter inquired about alarm systems. Regarding hotel obligations under the ADA, you ask first whether a hotel may decline to rent a guestroom that is not accessible to a guest with a mobility impairment if all accessible guestrooms are occupied and, if not, whether the hotel can require the guest to sign a waiver of liability. Under title III of the ADA, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation (28 C.F.R. S 36.202). A place of public accommodation may impose legitimate safety requirements, even if they tend to screen out persons with disabilities. However, these requirements must be based on actual risks and on facts about particular individuals, not on stereotypes or generalizations about individuals with disabilities or on the basis of presumptions as to a class of individuals with
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01-02802 -2disabilities can or cannot do. A policy that denies persons with mobility or hearing impairments the use of an inaccessible room on the basis of safety concerns may constitute the kind of prohibited generalization or presumption about what a class of individuals with disabilities can or cannot do. Note that any safety standard must be applied to all clients or customers of the place of accommodation, and inquiries about it must be limited to matters necessary to carrying out the specific standard. Hotel guests with disabilities assume the same ordinary safety risks as do guests without disabilities. It is discriminatory to apply eligibility criteria or standards that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or a class of individuals with disabilities from the full and equal enjoyment of any goods and services, unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the goods and services (28 CFR S 36.301). Therefore, singling out persons with disabilities to sign waivers of liability as a condition of becoming a hotel guest is likely an example of an eligibility criterion that tends to screen out persons with disabilities. We presume under your scenario that a person with a disability is being offered a non-accessible room because all accessible guestrooms are occupied by persons with disabilities. If that is not the case, the hotel should move non disabled guests to another room and provide the accessible room to the person with a mobility impairment. This situation can be avoided by reserving the hotels accessible rooms until all the other rooms are booked, by renting accessible rooms to non disabled guests for one night only, or by notifying non disabled persons who rent accessible rooms that they may be asked to move to another room. Furthermore, an existing hotel that has an insufficient
number of accessible rooms, according to the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, Section 9.1.2, is obligated under the ADA to remove architectural barriers to access and make the requisite number of rooms accessible, to the extent it is readily achievable to do so. Please also remember that, in altering guest rooms or when constructing new hotels, a hotel must make a certain number of the guest rooms accessible. For the appropriate numbers of accessible rooms, please refer to Section 9 of the Standards for Accessible Design. Your second question is whether a hotel must accede to a request to rent a non-accessible room to a guest with a mobility impairment when accessible rooms are available and, if so, whether the hotel can require the guest to sign a waiver of liability. Individuals with disabilities are not required to accept accessible accommodations. Section 501(d) of the ADA specifically provides: 001-02803 -3Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require an individual with a disability to accept an accommodation, aid, service, opportunity, or benefit which such individual chooses not accept. Because an individual has a statutory right to decline the accessible room in the first instance, a penalty in the form of requiring a waiver of liability cannot be imposed for exercising that right. Your third question is whether the hotel may deny a room to a guest who is deaf and who desires a room equipped for persons with hearing impairments. Again we presume that only persons with disabilities are occupying such rooms on that evening. If not, non-disabled persons should be moved to allow the person with a disability to occupy the room. In order to provide equal access, a public accommodation is required to make available appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication (28 C.F.R. 36.303). The hotel maintains its responsibility to provide effective communication, even though a guest with a hearing impairment is placed in an inaccessible room. Therefore, if all the rooms equipped with visual alarms are occupied, the
hotel is still responsible for providing effective communication by alternative methods, such as portable alarms, or other devices if it is not an undue burden. The hotel is strongly encouraged to consult with the individual with a disability to ensure the choice of an auxiliary aid or service that will result in effective communication. Your second letter deals with the question of installation heights for visual alarm devices as provided in section 4.28.3(6) of the Standards. This provision requires that the visual appliances of the alarm system be located 80 inches above the highest floor level within the space or 6 inches below the ceiling, whichever is lower. This requirement was based on data indicating that 80 inches was the most effective height for a 75candela lamp. The additional requirement that the lamp of ceiling mounted devices be below the ceiling, rather than recessed into or flush with ceiling, was included because the reflection of the flash on the ceiling surface is an important factor affecting the visibility of the visual alarm device. This data and reasoning is explained in the enclosed technical bulletin on visual alarms that was developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. Section 2.2 of the Standards, Equivalent Facilitation, permits departures from particular technical requirements when alternative designs and technologies can be shown to provide equivalent or greater accessibility. The concept of equivalent facilitation allows for deviations from technical provisions of -4the standards when it is necessary to meet the requirements of other applicable regulations. However, the Department does not certify or approve individual proposals of equivalent facilitation. We hope that the information above is of help to you. Please feel free to contact the Public Access Section any time you have other questions or need further information. The Department maintains a telephone information line to provide technical assistance regarding the rights and obligations of individuals, businesses, agencies, and others covered or protected by the ADA. This technical assistance is available by calling 202-514-0301 (voice) or 202-514-0383 (TDD) between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday,
John L. Wodatch Chief Public Access Section
Enclosure Visual Alarms Bulletin 01-02802
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