In addition to regulating the design of hotel rooms, the Americans with Disabilities Act also mandates that hotels make public areas and amenities accessible to guests with disabilities. Travelers with disabilities frequently encounter issues with access to hotel amenities and services, and I will address the regulations concerning a couple of those here.

Swimming Pools

The 2010 ADA Standards require new and existing hotel swimming pools to be accessible to wheelchair users and guests with disabilities. The following regulatory deadlines were imposed:

  • On or after March 15, 2012 — All newly constructed or altered hotel swimming pools must comply with the 2010 Standards.
  • On or after January 31, 2013 — All existing hotel swimming pools must comply with the 2010 standards, to the extent required under title III readily achievable barrier removal requirements.

So, what are the ADA accessibility rules for hotel swimming pools?

Accessible Means of Entry

The 2010 Standards require hotels to provide at least two accessible means of entry to swimming pools (242.2). Smaller pools with less than 300 linear feet of swimming pool wall need only provide one accessible means of entry, but that must be either a pool lift or sloped entry.

The standards list five types of accessible entry accommodations: swimming pool lifts, sloped entries, transfer walls, transfer systems and pool stairs (1009). Every pool, regardless of size, must offer at least one swimming pool lift complying with section 1009.2 or a sloped entry/ramp into the water complying with 1009.3.

Swimming Pool Lifts

Prior to the 2010 Standards, many hotels purchased portable pool lifts that could be moved around the pool deck. The new standards require hotels to install fixed pool lifts, which are sturdier, safer and more reliable. Hotels that purchased non-fixed lifts before March 15, 2012 are grandfathered in and are considered compliant, so long as the portable lift remains in working order.

Common ADA Violations

The most common swimming pool ADA compliance issues include non-functioning pool lifts and training of hotel staff. The law requires that pool lifts be available for use during the pool’s operational hours. Most pool lifts become disabled because the batteries have not been charged, or have been misplaced by hotel staff. Issues may also arise when team members lack the training or knowledge to instruct guests on the pool lift’s operation and use.

Naturally, hotels without a pool lift or sloped entry ramp are in violation of this part, unless they can demonstrate that providing those features was not readily achievable (a rarely valid exception).

Hotel Shuttles

Many hotels offer complimentary shuttle service to guests, with free transportation to nearby airports, attractions or conference centers. Based on my extensive experience with staying at hotels in the United States, I can safely say that most shuttle vans are NOT wheelchair accessible.

Hotel shuttle that is not wheelchair accessible.

Hotels offering complimentary shuttle services to guests must provide the same to guests with disabilities. In an ADA guidance document available to businesses, the Department of Justice states:

Some businesses provide transportation for their customers as a convenience that supports their primary business. Examples include hotels that provide courtesy shuttle vans for guests going to or from an airport or other local destinations…Companies that provide services like these must offer transportation to people with disabilities.

Many hotels can comply with the ADA requirements without purchasing a lift- or ramp-equipped vehicle of their own. Compliance can usually be accomplished by providing accessible transportation through a contractor (such as a local taxi company), but the DOJ warns that the alternative service must be equivalent:

The important thing to remember is that the service provided must be equivalent. If customers without disabilities can get transportation quickly and easily, people with disabilities deserve equivalent service. The services offered to people with disabilities must be as convenient as the services offered to other people in terms of fares, schedules or response times, hours of operation, pick-up and drop-off locations, and other measures of equivalent service.

Herein lies the problem. Many hotels without an accessible shuttle have failed to plan for the arrival of guests with disabilities. I have stayed in countless cities where wheelchair taxis are difficult (or impossible) to reserve, which leads to hotels not being able to deliver an equivalent service (particularly in wait/response time). Hotels in cities like Albuquerque, Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Orlando, St. Louis and (countless) others are unable to comply with the ADA’s equivalency requirements without an accessible vehicle of their own.

Failure to comply with this part constitutes a major violation of the ADA, and is one which can have significant consequences for travelers with disabilities. Being stuck overnight at an airport with no way to get to your hotel is the most severe, but it has happened to me on numerous occasions in multiple cities.

For more information about the accessibility rules governing courtesy shuttles, read my in-depth article on the ADA and hotel shuttles.

To learn how to protect yourself against ADA violations like the ones mentioned here, read the article on resolving ADA disputes.

Questions about the ADA and how it applies to swimming pools, courtesy shuttles and other services and amenities provided by hotels? Ask away in the comments below!