Hotels & the ADA (supporting the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities)
Towards the end of March, I noticed a headline about a Civil Rights Activist suing a Hotel for ADA violations who was arguing her case before the Supreme Court. I read the article and found myself, once again, realizing how much my perspective on our world has changed since I lost both of my legs. When I worked in the hotel industry, the Americans with Disabilities Act was barely mentioned in school or workplace training beyond understanding what's different about the "handicapped rooms" (a term that now aggravates me beyond belief) and where the "handicapped parking" is located (same aggravation, though I once casually used these terms myself with careless abandon). There was no emphasis placed on why we were required by law to have these features. There was no attempt to empathize with the travelers whose civil rights these features are meant to protect. There was, by and large, no exploration or education in accommodating diverse disabilities in the public hospitality environment.
The next morning, I received a message from a friend in Colombia who knew I used to work in the Hospitality Industry. He had seen the same article and asked if I'd be willing to share my thoughts as both a person with a disability and a former hotel manager. The Saturday after the US Supreme Court was supposed to hear the case, I sat down and recorded my opinion over zoom. I have since been watching for confirmation that the hearing happened but have found nothing. It does appear that there may have been a continuance issued for the time being. The last thing I found said that the case had been added to the Supreme Court's docket and would be heard in the fall with a decision expected early next year.
Completely unaware of how long I was going, I spoke for over 20 minutes. My friend edited it down to about 14 minutes, which you can watch in the video below. I cover most of the details in the video, but to make a long story short, a woman who is blind and uses both a cane and a wheelchair, tried to make a reservation at a hotel in Maine, but they didn't have accessible rooms in their online inventory for reservation over their website. On the surface, this appears to be a violation of the 2010 updates to the American's with Disabilities Act. (When the hotel was built and when/if any major updates have taken place does impact that). I don't have that information, but the plot thickens in that the Plaintiff has filed over 600 similar lawsuits against hotels around the country. The hotel company involved in the current case claims that the Plaintiff had no intent to stay in their market and was just looking for someone to sue, so has sustained no actual injury. The case was initially thrown out due to lack of standing, but the appeals court recognized her right (and I would argue her responsibility) as a Person with a Disability to enforce the ADA. That's how the case has come before the US Supreme Court, for a final decision on her right to sue the hotel for ADA violations, regardless of her intent to stay at the hotel or in their market.
I do hope that you take the time to watch the video. Please know that over six minutes were edited out. Missing from the video is a statement regarding how I feel about the way the Plaintiff has chosen to go about holding hotels accountable for complying with the ADA. I don't like the concept of "drive-by lawsuits", which this certainly feels like, but when you look at it from the perspective of someone with a disability looking for a hotel room that can accommodate them, the more accessible the hospitality industry becomes, the easier it will be for people with disabilities (who make up a quarter of our population) and their families to travel. I have chosen to go the route of offering consulting services to help the hospitality industry, and really any organization that serves the public sector, to embrace and adapt to Accessible Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging as a vital aspect of their business operations, which will help avoid ADA related lawsuits. Sadly, my experience so far has shown that more businesses would rather risk a potential costly lawsuit than invest the money upfront in training and modifications that would avoid the high dollar damages and settlements. Please refer any organization you encounter who could benefit from this kind of evaluation, consultation, and training to reach out to me at email@example.com.