Change is in the year this spring, thanks to the implementation of some new access regulations that were adopted in 2010. As of March 15, 2012 the hospitality industry will have to substantially change the way they book accessible rooms. as well as provide meaningful access information to prospective guests. New access guidelines for hotel pools also go into effect at that time. Together these new regulations will make travel even more accessible for wheelers and slow walkers.
Booking and Blocking Rooms
First and foremost, hotels will be required to identify and describe the accessible features in their guest rooms and public areas. The Department of Justice stopped short of listing what specific access features must be included, but instead said that properties must provide enough details so that potential guests could reasonably determine if a particular property or guest room will met their access needs. In the end, items like roll-in showers, toilet height, grab bar location and any adaptive equipment will be most likely be included with this assessment. Over the past 18 months, many hotel chains and hospitality associations have been working with disability and advocacy groups on this issue.
As far as the actual reservation procedure goes, properties must make sure that guests can reserve accessible rooms in the same manner that they can reserve non-accessible rooms. This applies to phone, internet, in-person and third party reservations. In other words, if you can reserve a non-accessible room on a particular website at midnight, you will also be able to reserve an accessible room in the same manner. No phone calls or other actions will be required. And with detailed access information available, you’ll also be able to reserve the specific room that you require.
Additionally, properties will be required to hold the accessible guest rooms for use by disabled guests, until all the other guest rooms of that type have been rented. A self-declaration of need is all the documentation that will be required to reserve an accessible room; however this regulation will likely deter most able-bodied guests from booking an accessible room just because they think it’s bigger and better.
Last but certainly not least, hotels will be required to block accessible rooms at the time of booking. Blocking means that a specific room is taken out of inventory and held for a specific guest on a specific date. Currently, a good number of major hotels will block accessible rooms upon reservation; however this regulation insures that the procedure will be the standard throughout the industry. Finally, disabled travelers will be able to rest assured that the accessible room they reserved will be available for them, no matter when they arrive.
Pool and Spa Access
The new pool and spa access standards were originally set to go into effect on March 15, 2012, however implementation has been delayed until January 31, 2013. These standards apply to newly constructed as well as existing pools; however wave pools, lazy rivers and sand bottom pools are exempt.
Under the standards, there are two categories of pool; large pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall and smaller pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall. The larger pools must have two means of accessible entry, with at least one of them being a pool lift or a sloped entry. Smaller pools are only required to have one means of accessible entry, but it has to be either a pool lift or a sloped entry.
All hotel pools built after March 15, 2012 must be constructed to those standards; while existing hotel pools must be made accessible to the extent that it’s readily achievable to do so. In other words, if access is easy to accomplish without much expense or economic hardship, properties will be required to make their pools accessible.
When determining if something is readily achievable several factors are taken into account, including the nature and cost of the action, the overall resources of the site and the overall resources of the parent corporation.
Many properties will choose to install a fixed pool lift that is independently operable by the user; however if that’s not readily achievable, a portable lift may be considered. No matter what access method is chosen, all equipment must be well maintained and employees must be trained in the proper operation of the lifts. Additionally, portable pool lifts may not be stored while the pool is open.
Although some smaller properties may initially claim that a pool lift is not readily achievable, the Department of Justice anticipates compliance in the long run. Most large chain properties will be required to install a lift. All in all these new regulations will make pools more accessible to everyone; and that just makes for a more enjoyable stay.