Webinar Wrap-Up: Title III of the ADA: How Does it Apply to Hotels, Restaurants, and Businesses?

March 13, 2019 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: May 26, 2021

Over the past year, many businesses, including hotels and restaurants, have seen an influx in lawsuits for violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In 1990, the ADA was passed to protect disabled citizens from discrimination. Title III of the ADA specifically covers places of public accommodations. This comprises of restaurants, hotels, theaters, shopping centers, museums, libraries, and much more. Under Title III, places of public accommodations are required to provide specific services and ensure effective communication for patrons with disabilities.  

In the webinar entitled, “Title III of the ADA: How Does it Apply to Hotels, Restaurants, and Businesses?”, Marc Dubin, former Senior Trial Attorney of the U.S. Department of Justice and CEO of ADA Expertise Consulting, discusses the most common ADA violations many businesses must address.

A Growing Market of Customers with Disabilities

According to the CDC, 25% of Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities

According to a 2005 study, there are over 21 million adults with disabilities who traveled at least once in the preceding two years.

More than 50% of adults with disabilities stayed in hotels while traveling within this two-year period, and they spent approximately $13.6 billion. That’s an extraordinary amount of spending power.

It’s important to ensure that your place of service accommodates customers with disabilities. There has been a multitude of lawsuits brought across the United States just for ADA violations.

Reservation Requirements for Places of Lodging

In terms of reservations, guests with disabilities don’t have enough information about the accessible features of the property to be able to independently make a knowledgeable conclusion of whether the property meets their accessibility needs.

Additionally, when a room is reserved it is to be held and not given to another guest, the accessible room should be taken out of the rotation, and staff should be adequately trained on the accessible features of the property.

The Department of Justice generated new regulations in 2012 after decades of complaints by guests with disabilities. Essentially, the DOJ sought to make places of lodging provide enough information about the accessibility of a property for the guests to make informed decisions.

Places of lodging must ensure that:

  • Individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours of operation and manner as guests who don’t need accessible rooms
  • Staff members identify and describe accessible features and guest rooms offered through its reservation service so individuals with disabilities can make informed decisions independently
  • The accessible guest rooms are held for use by individuals with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been booked and the accessible room requested is the only remaining one of the type
  • Remove and block off the accessible guest room from reservation system once the room has been booked
  • The accessible guest room reserved through your reservation service is held for that customer regardless of whether that’s your policy of holding other guest rooms

Individuals with disabilities need enough information about accessible features to independently make informed decisions

Service Animal Policy

blind woman with service dog

When a customer asks a hotel or restaurant if service animals are allowed, most businesses say yes without a problem. However, the violations are frequent right after that point because the staff members aren’t aware of what the ADA says about service animals. Businesses should have a written policy about service animals, and the staff should be trained on it.

The staff should know how to distinguish between a service animal and an emotional support animal. Service animals are trained to do work or perform tasks for persons with a disability, and they are protected by the Justice Department.

A service animal violation can result in either litigation, or it can result in a bad reputation or loss of business. Some common problems businesses face that result in litigation are:

  • Asking the wrong questions
  • Demanding documentation
  • Demanding that the dog wear a vest
  • Imposing a cleaning fee
  • Segregating the animal in a different section of the property
  • Failing to educate guests about what their rights are in terms of service dogs

When handling patrons with a service dog, businesses are only allowed to ask the two following questions:

  1. Is the service animal needed because of a disability?
  2. What services is it trained to do or what task is it trained to perform?

You are not allowed to ask a person what the nature of their disability is because it is confidential information.

As a business owner, you are protected if a service animal misbehaves. Service animals must be behaving well, on a leash, and potty trained.  

Websites and the ADA

The number of website lawsuits is astronomically growing. In 2018 alone, there have been 2,258 lawsuits compared to 2015, where there were only 57.

Many web developers are great at designing beautiful websites and conveying business messages. However, many are not trained on website accessibility requirements. Businesses need to ensure that they have an experienced expert on web accessibility on their side.

The ADA was enacted in 1990. At the time, the web wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. So now it becomes a matter of how the regulations of Title III apply to websites. When a website is created, businesses are communicating with the public about what products or services are provided. Businesses must be in compliance with the ADA’s requirements by providing the appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication.

Websites should be compliant with the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines, otherwise known as WCAG. WCAG is an international standard that has been developed over the years to ensure website accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is the standard that is required. This means that websites should be compatible with screen readers, videos should have accurate captions, and accessible to persons with mobility disabilities.

Businesses should make certain that they have conversations with their web developer about WCAG 2.0, the ADA, and web accessibility. It is highly recommended to get your website tested to ensure it is compliant with accessibility standards. This can prevent your business from a potential lawsuit and litigation fees.  

Learn more about WCAG 2.0 Compliance

Architects and the ADA

The ADA standards for accessible design are federal standards in Title III of the ADA. They are different from state building codes.

Businesses must comply with the federal ADA standards for accessible design in order to avoid violating the ADA federal civil rights law. New and altered construction falls under this and should follow federal ADA standards.

Similarly to web developers and websites, businesses must have conversations with their architects to ensure they have expertise and experience in the ADA standards.

Watch the full webinar, “Title III of the ADA: How Does it Apply to Hotels, Restaurants, and Businesses?“, below 👇

This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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