Members of four disability-rights groups are boycotting a number of hotels over disagreements about pool-lift policies.
Begun in July, the boycott targets hospitality firms because advocates for the disabled are angry with two lobbying organizations — the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American
Hotel Owners Association. They accuse the trade groups of being behind changes in how the Americans with Disabilities Act is interpreted.
Organizing the boycott are the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Council on Independent Living, ADAPT and the National Disability Rights Network.
“This industry’s lobbying groups are making the
decision to spend their members’ dues on big-time Washington
lobbyists to amend the ADA and limit accessibility for people who
use wheelchairs and other means of getting around, and so need a
lift,” said Lara Schwartz, vice president of external affairs
for the American Association of People with Disabilities, based in
Washington, D.C. “The community’s saying, ‘Fine.
I’m just not going to spend money on the people who are going
to limit our rights.’”
But the AH&LA says it has cooperated with the ADA.
“We’ve been spending the last two years educating our
members on how to come into compliance, and we have a concern about
one specific issue that really was only defined by the Department
of Justice in January of this year,” said Kevin Maher, senior
vice president for governmental affairs at the Washington,
D.C.-based AH&LA. “They’re kind of throwing out the
baby with the bathwater.”
Though the ADA became law in 1990, specific instructions for pool
and spa compliance were not released until 2010. These included
language stating that commercial pools and spas must have
disability access lifts, with larger vessels needing a second means
of access as well. An interpretation of the law mandated that all
lifts be permanently attached to the deck, rather than the portable
models that can move freely between two pools and be put away for storage.
These stipulations were released less than two months before the
March 15, 2012, compliance deadline. Many aquatic businesses
objected to the late date, saying some facilities had already
purchased portable lifts.
But ultimately the Department of Justice, which oversees the ADA,
extended the compliance deadline to Jan. 31, 2013. The DOJ also
allowed portable lifts for facilities that had purchased them
before March 15, as long as they are positioned for use during
hours of operation.
Lifts bought after March 15, 2012, are to be fixed, as long as the
facility’s ability to purchase them is “readily
achievable.” No exact definition of that term was provided.
The DOJ’s change of heart caused many facility operators to
breathe a sigh of relief, but had the opposite effect on a number
of people in the disabled community. The advocacy groups accused
the hotel associations of trying to weaken the law by lobbying to
eliminate the fixed-lift requirement and to permit the sharing of a
single lift no matter how many pools and spas are in a given property.
“This would mean that if a person with a disability wants to
leave one pool and join his family at another pool across a giant
resort, he would have to get staff to haul the thing over there and
reinstall it,” Schwartz said.
The AH&LA believes portable lifts should be allowed across the
board. “We’re not trying to take away anything from the
ADA,” Maher said. “We want to provide access, but we
need some flexibility on how to meet that requirement.” Maher
said he had hoped to work with the disability-rights community to
come to an agreement on allowing portable lifts for all facilities,
and jointly take a proposal to the Department of Justice.
Because of their concerns, AAPD and other groups organized a
protest this summer at AH&LA headquarters. More importantly,
the coalition declared a boycott against two groups of hotels and
motels — those that do not have fixed lifts on their pools
and spas and those “represented among the executive
leadership” of the two hotel trade groups.
Members of the disability-rights groups and those sympathetic to
their cause are being asked to not host events or book stays at
these facilities. The exact reach of these groups isn’t known
because some don’t have individual members, but rather are
composed of facilities and programs catering to the disabled. The
American Association of People with Disabilities represents more
than 70,000, while the National Council on Independent Living
(which includes ADAPT) has a potential to include more than 5,000,
according to an official within the organization.
Boycott organizers hope to accomplish two things, Schwartz said
— stop continued lobbying about pool lifts by the hotel
groups, and pressure properties to install fixed lifts.
The boycott has the potential to affect more than 700 hotels and
motels. In its list of targets, boycott organizers named the
Carlson Rezidor company, which itself accounts for 640 properties
across the United States, with brands including the Park Plaza,
Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson, Country Inn &
Suites and Hotel Missoni. Another 97 individual facilities were
listed, including those owned by the Fitzpatrick Hotel Group and Kimpton Hotels.
The hotel group and others prefer the allowance of portable lifts
in all cases for several reasons. First, they say the cost of
installing fixed lifts, which requires bolting them to the deck,
would be prohibitive for many facilities. Additionally, they say
fixed lifts can become an attractive nuisance for children who
could injure themselves, creating a liability concern. “We
hired a safety consultant who spent a career looking at safety
issues and said this is an increased safety risk,” Maher said.
But officials from the disability-rights groups don’t believe
the cost argument because cash-strapped facilities can obtain a
waiver if needed, and tax credits are available. They also reject
the notion that the lifts are unsafe. “A pool by its
definition is dangerous for children,” said Kelly Buckland,
director of the National Council on Independent Living in
Washington, D.C. “[Children] should be supervised if
they’re there. There are all kinds of things for them to play
on and jump off, including diving boards and ladders. The pool lift
isn’t any different.”
Boycott organizers question how quickly hotel staff could provide
lifts when needed. They also say their members don’t feel
safe on portable lifts because they seem less stable than their
fixed counterparts. “They continue to ... dismiss the
community’s concerns that portable lifts are more dangerous
to their users and unlikely to be installed in a timely
fashion,” Schwartz said.
These groups also worry about how the hotel associations’
lobbying actions could affect the “readily achievable”
clause used throughout the ADA, beyond the pool and spa section. To
the disabled community, this phrase was a concession to accommodate
business owners who can’t afford to meet the preferred
standard (in this case, fixed lifts). The phrase was inserted after
much negotiation while the 2010 standard was being written, Buckland said.
Allowing portable lifts for any facility would, in effect, remove
the “readily achievable” concept from the pool section
and allow anyone to meet a lower standard, they believe. Buckland
sees that as a potentially slippery slope. “If the
[associations] are successful at being exempted from the
requirements of the ADA, then why not [exempt] buses, why not
restaurants?” he said. “We think this is a direct
threat on the ‘readily achievable’ requirement of the
act. If that part of the act is undercut, it puts in jeopardy all
the access requirements under the ADA.”