The Source for Maritime Legal Information

Cruise Ships Must be Accessible to Handicapped Passengers

handcapped.pngThe Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was passed to make businesses and recreational areas accessible to persons with disabilities. Though originally envisioned as a land-based statute, the Supreme Court in Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd. held the ADA applicable to any cruise ship leaving from an United States port. Overnight, the Spector case required the cruise industry to refit its ships to comply with the ADA including the accessibility standards set forth in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG). Subsequent cases, however, recognized because of the uniqueness of ocean going vessels many ADAAG requirements, were specifically formulated for land-based structures, cannot practically apply to ships. As such, cruise ships are exempt from certain structural ADAAG requirements until such time as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board issues specific standards for ships. However, courts found all other aspects of the ADA applicable to cruise ships. These include:

  • Proper height and shape for signage;
  • Wheelchair assessable cabins/staterooms;
  • Grab rails in lavatories;
  • Assessable height of counters, tables, sinks, toilets, door handles and grab rails;
  • Wheelchair turning radius in hallways and rooms;
  • Installation of certain assessable door handles; and,
  • Appropriate number on wheelchair accessible tables and seating locations in the ship’s dining rooms, theaters, clubs and lounges.
Bringing an ADA Claim

Before one can bring an ADA claim, the person must be “injured”. This means the disabled person must have attempted to gain access to the premises but was unable due to the configuration of the space. It is not enough to scan a cruise line’s website and conclude none of their ships are accessible.

Damages Under the ADA

Aggrieved individuals may sue to enforce the ADA and, if successful, obtain relief in the form of requiring the cruise line to make the area assessable as well as an award of attorney’s fees associated with bringing the suit.