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The Next Angle of ADA Lawsuits Targets Hospitality

David Gibson

The hospitality industry and the ADA have had a rough time over the years. Since the ADA’s passing in 1990, hotels, motels, inns, or any “place of lodging” have had to adjust to first the physical access requirements and now the digital. 

In recent years, hospitality websites have become a common target for ADA compliance lawsuits. These suits focus on the structure elements of websites to ensure that people with disabilities, using screen readers and other assistive technologies, can access and use the features of websites. 

Recently a regulation the Department of Justice adopted under ADA, 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e) that went into effect in 2012, is opening new legal trouble for “inns, hotels, motels or other places of lodging”. 

This requirement applies to website content vs structure. Here, amongst other requirements, the regulation requires that lodging businesses “identify and describe accessible features in guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a particular room meets his or her accessibility needs.”

Such a “reservation service” includes websites. And there are no exceptions for lodging facilities with less than 50 rooms (as for physical barrier accessibility). Therefore it’s important that all lodging operators make sure their website’s descriptions of accessible rooms and the property at large accurately describe all physical accessibility features. Even if the property has none, it’s important for the person with the disability to find this information on the website. In such a case of a smaller facility with less than 50 rooms that is not required to have accessible rooms, a “Special Requests & Accessibility” or “Unique Accommodations” page should be added to the website to provide such information.

Here, similar to the web-related ADA access cases that have surged in recent years, the ADA does allow for the recovery of plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. Although in practice, these cases seldom reach a judge, and out-of-court settlements can range dramatically. Insurance rarely covers these cases as well, but its worth checking with your carrier.

Of course, if the website itself is not accessible to people using assistive technologies such as screen readers, then that must first be addressed. Learn more about how to make your website ADA compliant.