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HanaS77 March 28th, 2004 02:51 PM

Disabled Passenger Court Case
Disabled Passengers on Cruise Ships

There still seems to be little improvement of what disabled passe3ngers may encounter on foreign flagged cruise ships. On January 12, 2004 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in the case of D.Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd. (NCL), suing the cruise line also in behalf of others, ruled that Title III of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) does not apply to NCL. Since the vessels of NCL are foreign flagged the ruling of this court should apply to all foreign flagged ships. However, there has been little uniformity within the Federal Court Circuits. Other Federal Courts have upheld Title III. The U.S.Department of Justice that is responsible for ADA has enforced or sued cruise lines under Title III, contending cruise ships are places of public accommodation. No cases involving foreign flagged cruise lines and ADA have been presented the United States Supreme Court. There seems to be a reluctance of the part of the Department of Justice to file a brief with the Supreme Court since this Supreme Court has not been friendly to the disabled.

In 1993, United States Senator Phil Gramm(Tex) wrote a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation that is responsible for shipping to develop specifications for what constitute a wheelchair accessible or facility for the disabled. As of to day the DOT has done little in the way of developing standards and specifications. All the DOT would have to do is buy a copy of Douglas Ward’s” Ocean Cruising and Cruise Ships 2003”, Pages 78 to 80 to ascertain what is required. Under Title III the cruise lines are not required to provide wheelchairs although we have not found this to be a problem

The wife is disabled requiring use of a wheelchair and over the many years of cruising, even with the best cruise lines, what has been provided as a wheelchair accessible stateroom usually has a “Rube Goldberg” facilities in the bathroom. The staterooms are usually in the poorest location on the ship. Some only offer inside staterooms. Some of the vessels are not wheelchair friendly to get around. I cannot understand why the cruise lines continue to build ships with showers inside a bathtub.

The plaintiffs in this case alleged that physical barriers denied them access to the following:(1)”emergency evacuation equipment and emergency related evacuation programs; (2) facilities such as restrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, and elevators; and (3) cabins with balcony or window. They also alleged that there had to pay a premium for the wheelchair accessible cabin.

This court ruled: Foreign flagged cruise ships are not subject to Title III of the ADA unless, and until Congress clearly expresses its intention to do so. You may not get much action on the part of members of Congress until they stop accepting money from the lobbies for the cruise industry. What must be done is to inundate your Congressional Representatives and the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to take appropriate action. After all they are supposed to work of us, not the cruise lines that who do not even pay corporate income taxes on their earnings generated in the United States. Get out your pen, typewriter or e-mail.

Candy Harrington March 31st, 2004 10:19 AM

Re: Disabled Passenger Court Case
One of the reasons there is no uniformity in the courts is that the US Access Board has yet to come up with architectural guidelines for cruise ships. They had a committee make recommendations to them, and that committee disbanded several years ago. They have yet to publish any type of a report for public comment. Once they do this it will probably be about 2-3 years before any guidelines are adopted (lots of committees and public hearings in between and it could take even longer).

The ADA does not contain any access standards or architectural guidelines.
The ADA established that an entity (The Access Board) be created to establish architectural standards (the ADAAG). The ADA itself does not say for example that doorways must have a certain amount of clearance space or that toilets must be of a specific height in order to be considered "accessible"-- that is what the Access Board decided when it published the ADAAG. Right now we have no ADAAG for cruise ships.

So although Stevens v. Premiere Cruise Lines established that foreign flag ships that call on US ports are covered under Title III of the ADA, since we have no architectural standards it is pretty unenforceable. It has been interpreted to mean that people will not be denied boarding solely because of a disability.

Candy Harrington
Editor, Emerging Horizons
The only accessible travel magazine
***edited to remove commercial reference***

Vladimir and Elfrieda April 1st, 2004 02:43 PM

Re: Disabled Passenger Court Case

Both comments by HanaS77 and Ms Harrington are certainly valid, but I would like to add a practical point of view, based on our modest cruise experience.
Since 1999, that my wife had lost her leg and recently her vision, we have cruised eight times. The Cruise Lines that I tend to book our cruises, are Princess, Celebrity and RC.
I always book a HP cabin and to date, we did not encounter "Rube Goldberg" bathroom facilities, nor did we ever pay a premium for the HP room. As far as the emergency procedures, we are permitted to use the elevators to our Stations and assemble in a specially assigned area for the wheelchair handicapped.
Again, both my wife and I never have found, as HanaS77 describes - the lack of facilities at open restrooms, restaurants and elevators. More so, we always book a HP cabin with verandah and most of them are right next to the elevators. Oh yes, I also make sure that the bathroom in our cabin has a "drive-in" shower.
I am certainly aware of the limitations that a HP person may encounter on any cruise ship, but with some careful planning (as far as one year ahead of departure,
in our case) it sure has worked out for us, so far.
If I have to include a negative thought, that would be, the emergency evacuation - it does make me a little bit nervous if it were a real evacuation of some 3000 passengers and crew, and secondly , being a retired architect, I know not to hold my breath for any valid ADA improvements for a long time!

Candy Harrington April 2nd, 2004 03:14 PM

Re: Disabled Passenger Court Case
I agree with Vladimir. Most of the newer ships in the lines he mentioned have excellent access. And it should be noted that since no architectural guidelines exist, whatever the cruise lines are doing, they are doing voluntarily.

I usually end up inspecting all categories of accessible cabins whenever I'm on a ship to do story, and I've found that on the newer ships the bathrooms are all the same. They are "ready made" and they just plop them in there. This is good, because as at least it's consistent.

I have to say that I've encountered many more "Rube Goldberg" facilities at hotels than on cruise ships. I have seen some questionable access, but this is mainly on older and retrofitted ships. No not all ships are appropriate choices for wc users, but it's good that we have resources like this -- so people can share information so they can make the choice that is right for them. Different people have different access needs.

Candy Harrington
Editor, Emerging Horizons
The only accessible travel magazine.

HannaS77 April 2nd, 2004 08:30 PM

Re: Disabled Passenger Court Case
I have used the term "Rube Goldberg" provisions that we have discovered primarily in vessels where the ship owner has removed a bathtub to provide a stall or walk-in type shower. The wife has been able to use a bathroom where there is a stall shower; a stateroom, that is not considered to be a "wheelchair accessible cabin". On one of our cruises on the Holland America "Prinsendam", they replaced the shower head with a shower using flexible piping and a stool. Fortunately the shower had ample safety bars
including bars when using the toilet.

On our March 9 cruise this year the border of the stall shower, in a "wheelchair accessible" stateroom was what I felt was "Rube Goldberg"(a cruise piece of wood) since it did not prevent the bathroom to be flooded. Last year on the Statendam the "wheelchair accessible"had a unreliable drainage arrangement since the shower replaced a bathtub. The bathroom would become flooded and there was a chance of a skip and fall.

What makes all of this interesting is that many of the foreign flagged cruise ships using use ports contend they cannot provide adequate facilities for the disabled since the DOT has never come up with specs. In Europe where the cruise ships do not come to U.S. ports, they have not had a problem providing adequate facilities. One of our problems rests with the fact that the cruise ships when being built install bathtubs with high sides and place a shower in the tub.

Candy Harrington April 3rd, 2004 12:26 PM

Re: Disabled Passenger Court Case
I see what you mean. Yes, many retrofitted ships don’t exactly have the best access, especially the bathrooms. But then again, neither do retrofitted hotels. You do get the best access when you build (anything) from the ground up, rather than retrofitting it to be accessible years later. So yes, the best bet is to book on the newer ships. Most of these actually have quite good access (where they have decided to address access at all).

And yes the drains on many roll-in showers are not the best in the world. (Carnival even gives you a squeegee!). RCI on the other hand had actually improved their drainage system for roll-in showers on the Mariner of the Seas (with a third drain near the door).

I don't disagree with you, that we do need standards in place. However, that duty was actually given to the US Access Board (under the ADA) and is under the oversight of the Department of Justice. Cruise ships technically fall under Title III of the ADA (as a public accommodation) and as such they are under the oversight of the Department of Justice. So the correct entity to contact for action is indeed the US Access Board ( Click on “status of rules” and then on “passenger vessel guidelines” to see where they are on this task to date. (most likely no progress has been made since November 2000)

I don't believe congress should revisit or review any portion of the ADA, as in this political climate we would most likely loose ground if that were to happen. The general public (and congress) was more supportive of access measures back in the early 90s (when a scaled down version of the originally ADA was passed by congress).

Again, the power lies with the US Access Board, not Congress to get this remedied.

Candy Harrington
Editor, Emerging Horizons
The only accessible travel magazine

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