Does your hotel comply with ADA requirements?

by Gerri Kielhofner, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first adopted as a standard in 1991, with new revisions just recently adopted in September 2010; however most hotels built before and unfortunately many built since 1991 do not completely meet the ADA standards, even after upgrades have been undertaken. The reasons for non-compliance are numerous, but the two largest impediments to conformance with ADA are cost and clear solutions. An existing hotel, or any private facility for that matter is required by Title III of ADA to remove architectural barriers if the removal is readily achievable. Title III goes on to define readily achievable with twenty-one examples; however, there can be a hundred issues that arise when reviewing a hotel for non-compliance of ADA. For an Owner, it can be very difficult in many cases to determine what should and could be undertaken to help alleviate the problems within their financial means.

It is important to remember that ADA is a Federal law and is not administered by the local code officials. It is handled in Court by a Federal Judge. A handicapped person who feels that they have been discriminated against by your lack of effort to comply with ADA can get an attorney and file suit in Federal Court.

Unlike the Building Codes which are prescriptive and considered minimum standards, the ADA is written vaguely and the prescriptive means of meeting the requirements are established in Court by the Judges as each situation is adjudicated. The fines are fairly tough if the judge feels that you have not made an effort to comply. Needless to say, it is in your best interest to make sure your facility complies or that you have made a good effort to comply given the project and your resources.

The best course of action is to review the entire facility and determine what changes will be the most beneficial and make the greatest impact towards making a hotel conform to the ADA, within a reasonable budget. Here are some examples.

1. An existing three-story hotel has three staircases. Two are required exit stairs and one is an open stairs connecting three floors of the hotel. The open stairs is in the middle of the hotel and most visible to users of the hotel. None of the stairs meet the handrail extension requirements of ADA, yet it would be costly to remove and replace the handrails on all three staircases. Since the open staircase in the middle of the hotel is the most visible to the hotel guests and the most used, it seems reasonable and readily achievable to require that the handrails be replaced on this staircase. If the hotel later goes through any construction renovation, the other two stairs could be upgraded to code requirements, which also require handrail extensions; however, the hotel is only undergoing an upgrade for ADA at this time. If this was the only ADA non-compliance issue, all three staircases would need to be upgraded, but if this issue is one of several that are needing correction, the budget may require that other more critical issues be corrected and only the one staircase in the hotel be corrected at this time.

2. An existing elevator in a hotel does not meet the minimum elevator clearance requirements, yet a person is also able to get into the elevator at the same time as the person in the wheelchair. Estimates to replace the elevator range from $80,000 to $100,000 because the walls around the elevator are structural load bearing walls and can not easily be moved out to accommodate a bigger elevator. The elevator does have Braille signage next to the push buttons as well as many other features that meet ADA; however, the size does not meet the minimum size stipulated by the ADA for existing facilities. Due to the high cost for replacing the elevator, this would not be a readily achievable solution. And, since the elevator can still be accessed by a person in a wheelchair, the elevator would probably not have to be replaced at this time.

3. Existing accessible parking spaces at a hotel are over the 2% slope limit allowed by ADA. In lieu of trying to remove the pavement, re-grade the slope to meet the 2% limit, and repave the parking spaces. It would be more readily achievable to relocate the ADA parking spaces on site that are still close enough to the entrance and meet the 2% limit. This may require relocating signage and tearing out some concrete sidewalks in order to provide a curb ramp, but these costs are minimal compared to repaving, and not providing accessible parking spaces is probably not an option a hotel should pursue.

4. An existing hotel has 120 rooms with only two ADA accessible guest rooms. For new hotels, ADA requires seven accessible rooms when a hotel has 120 rooms. Of these seven required accessible rooms, two are required to have a roll-in shower in lieu of a bathtub. The existing two accessible guest rooms in the hotel have bathtubs. Due to the fact that the hotel has load bearing wood framed walls, it would be extremely costly to remove load bearing walls in the guest rooms and create bathrooms large enough to meet the ADA requirements. In addition, the guest rooms are small enough that providing larger ADA restrooms will compromise the maneuverability around the bed and desk in the remaining area of the guest room. As a compromise, the Owner could add at least one or two more accessible guest rooms with a roll-in shower on the first floor, perhaps combining three guest rooms into only two if necessary to get the required amount of space. If major renovation work were to occur at the hotel in the future, the Owner would need to try and add the extra three or four accessible guest rooms.

The above examples are not solutions that will work on every existing hotel, or always be acceptable to a judge if litigation were to proceed, because the ADA does not give clear and cannot provide black and white solutions for every single situation in existing facilities. If the judge perceives that the Owner is willing to do as much as possible within their means, compromises may become acceptable, but solutions may be quite different depending upon who is making the recommendations. Even though there may be many options, the key will be finding a way to making the greatest impact on non-compliance that is most beneficial to your hotel guests within your financial means!