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Risk Management - ADA and Your Guests.

Posted 3/31/2019




Recent lawsuits against the hospitality industry illustrate how important complete ADA compliance is. Adhering to the Americans with Disabilities Act requires continued focus on new requirements. Take the example of the Las Vegas hotel that was ordered to widen 819 bathroom doorways in order to comply with the law. Or the Missouri hotel that was sued for not allowing a blind patron to bring in a guide dog. Or the California hotel that did not have the proper number of accessible rooms as required by the ADA. Knowing new requirements should be high on your management’s list to keep hospitality industry companies compliant.

One recent requirement is that all hotel pools (300 linear feet or less) must have 1 means of pool entry that accommodates people with disabilities, such as a pool lift. Pools larger than 300 linear feet must have 2 entries that accommodate people with disabilities.

The risk for hospitality managers who are not proactive on getting compliant is high. Aside from the costs of legal action by guests, hotels and restaurants could suffer fines by the Department of Justice—up to $110,000 for noncompliance. The time, costs, loss of goodwill, and negative publicity associated with legal action can be very damaging.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses open to the public provide individuals with disabilities equal access to the services they offer. That means (among other things) offering accessible guest rooms and common areas, and auxiliary aids as needed, such as pool lifts. Drafted into law in July 1990, ADA legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. State and municipal ordinances comply with, and in some cases exceed, ADA requirements.

Under the law, businesses must comply or can face stiff penalties. The ADA does not allow disabled plaintiffs to collect damages for violations of the Act, but it does permit lawyers to collect attorneys’ fees. In one case, Buckhamon Board & Care Home v. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (121 S. Ct. 1835, May 29, 2001), the Supreme Court held that if the defendant fixed the alleged problems, it wouldn’t be held liable for attorney’s fees for the plaintiff’s lawyer. In addition, legislation has been introduced (the ADA Notification Act, h.r. 914) that gives lodging operators appropriate notice and reasonable opportunity to remedy ADA situations before a suit can be prosecuted.

Despite this, the fact remains that the lodging industry is responsible for compliance with the various facets of the Act. Unless a systematic management approach is followed, hotels leave themselves vulnerable to continued allegations of insensitivity, bad publicity, and legal actions.


We have designed the following checklist to develop sound policies and procedures when it comes to ADA compliance.


While this is not a complete or exhaustive list of the ADA requirements, it highlights key points to keep in mind for common public areas of your facility. The US Department of Justice and/or local authorities with enforcement responsibility should be able to provide up-to-date ADA compliance requirements for your state. Familiarizing yourself with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities is a great place to start. Check out section 5, Restaurants and Cafeterias, and section 9, Accessible Transient Lodging.

Top Recommendations:


  • How’s your parking lot? Make sure you have sufficient designated and marked accessible parking spaces. Each accessible space should be at least 8 feet wide with a marked 5 foot wide minimum level access aisle next to it.
  • What about marking parking? There should be spaces closest to the accessible entrance that are marked with the international symbol.
  • At least one in every eight accessible spaces should accommodate a lift-equipped van.


  • Make sure there is a safe, continuous, unobstructed 36-inch path of travel from on-site parking, drop-offs, bus stops, and sidewalks to the hotel or restaurant entry without any stairs.
  • Ramp surfaces should be firm, stable, sloped safely, and covered with non-slip material.
  • Check that curbs along the path of travel have curb cuts or ramps.
  • Are there continuous handrails at both sides of all stairways?
  • At least 50% of your public entrances must be accessible. Entrance doors must have at least a 32-inch opening, with door handles no higher than 48 inches (that are possible to operate by someone with limited use of his or her hands).
  • All nonaccessible customer entrances must be posted with a visible sign that clearly indicates the location of an accessible entrance.
  • Inside the hotel or restaurant, make sure there are clear floor areas throughout for a person using a wheelchair to reverse direction—and that the path of travel is free of protruding objects that may pose hazards for people with visual disabilities.


  • Public phones should be provided with at least 30 to 48 inches of clear floor space in front of them.
  • Public phones should be hearing-aid compatible and adapted with volume control.
  • Amenities such as public telephones and drinking fountains are accessible to customers with disabilities. Drinking fountains have a public path of travel at least 36 inches wide.
  • Drinking fountains include both high and low spouts so they are accessible to people who use wheelchairs and to those who have difficulty bending or stooping.


  • Restrooms open to the public should be accessible to customers with disabilities. Doorways to restrooms should be at least 32 inches wide.
  • Restrooms should include at least one accessible stall.
  • Controls, dispensers, receptacles and other equipment (at least one each) are located within reach of a person using a wheelchair.
  • Faucets should be easy to grasp with one hand and operated without tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist.
  • Grab bars in accessible stalls are behind and on the side wall nearest the toilet or on both sidewalls of a 36-inch-wide alternative toilet stall.

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