Americans With Disability Act & Cruise Lines Part II
by Hermann Paul Schlander
This article will discuss the practical side of ADA and cruise ships. It has been about five years since I began conveying my wife in a wheel chair board a cruise ship. During this period I learned some tricks on how to use elevators, how top get easily get around the decks, i.e. until we were on a cruise on the Princess Cruises "Sea Princess." Do not get me wrong, I am not complaining for a learned a lesson. One thing I have discovered over the years is that once the wheel chair bound or blind passenger is aboard the ship, he or she are on their own, unless escorted.
The practice of the cruise ships we have used is to provide an employee at embarkation to expedite the check in procedure, then taking the wheel chair passenger to his or her stateroom. The same practice is used for disembarkation at the end of the cruise. Throughout the cruise about the only time an employee of the ship is helpful is when entering and leaving the main dining room..
During 2001 we took a 14 day cruise on the Sea Princess, which I felt was wheel chair friendly. At least twice a day the room stewards would store rather wide carts for servicing the staterooms in the passageway. Too often it was difficult to get three or four carts to reach the elevators. Another impediment was unusual high fire door sills, which made it difficult for the small front wheels to pass over. I brought this to the attention of Princess Cruises. Since I never received a reply I assume they took my letter as a nuisance complaint.
I sent a copy of the letter to the Civil Right Division of the U. S. Department of Justice ,which handles ADA matters and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Civil Rights Division had no interest in the matter and their letter gave advice on suing the cruise line, for which I no intention. The letter from the Coast Guard informed me there is nil in ADA about making it easy to get around the cruise ship decks but they would check into the use of the carts since this may constitute a safety hazard during an emergency.
Recently there was a court case where Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Lines(NCL) was being sued for refusing to book three blind individuals unless they were escorted. NCL signed a consent agreement that it would book unescorted blind passengers. In my opinion I have to question this decision since a ship can be a hazard place to maneuver at times, even for someone who is not blind. What has aroused my interest in this case is that nothing was written in the consent agreement as to what the responsibility of the cruise ship personnel might be once the unescorted blind person is aboard the ship at sea.
In the ADA there are published standards or recommendations for accommodating blind patrons in a hotel and I assume the Civil Rights Division would enforce these aboard a cruise ship, especially since the cruise lines liken themselves to be akin to a floating hotel. However, even in the hotel standards or recommendations, there is no input as to how far the hotel staff has to go to accommodate the blind guest once he or she have been registered, showed to the elevators, to their room and given an explanation and location of the bed, telephone, and bathroom.
Several years ago we were on a Holland America ship where a blind couple were not escorted. They relied on fellow passengers to get them to the dining room and self-service restaurant. I never witness a member of the crew assisting them in getting to these places and I not sure that ADA .requires this. Twice I have been on HAL cruise ships where the passengers had seeing eye dogs and they seem to get around pretty well.