Hotel requirements for hearing and sight impaired have increased dramatically over the last few years.
Hotels are like any other business that provides goods and services to the public except that they also provide a place to sleep. Most medium to large sized hotels also offer meeting and conference rooms as well as on-site business centers. These rooms are rented out to the public on a daily basis for presentations, meetings and group training sessions.
For most of us, when we think about ADA access, we visualize the need for ramps, handrails, disabled parking stalls with loading zones, lower drinking fountains and drop down counters as well as extra turning space in restrooms and grab bars mounted on the wall. These are all items for the mobility impaired, but what about people with hearing and sight impairments?
The new 2010 ADA requires that any place of public accommodation that provides conference and meeting rooms must provide “communication features” and services for hearing and sight impaired. ADAAG addresses the obligation to make meeting rooms, assembly areas and conference rooms accessible by means of assistive listening systems. This requirement is to provide assistive listening systems in assembly areas with at least 50 fixed seats, or an amplification system. For now, I will cover the requirements for hotel rooms for hearing and sight impaired.
Auxiliary Aids and Services
Hotels must provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, when necessary to ensure effective communication, unless this would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration.
Auxiliary aids and services include, but are not limited to: qualified interpreters, note takers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons, videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.
For hotels and motels, the obvious auxiliary aids and services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals are access to telephone and television service and to notification systems. The regulation specifies the following services::
Telephones Compatible With Hearing Aids: Some telephones do not emit a signal that is compatible with certain hearing aids. Hotels and motels must provide telephone receivers that are compatible with hearing aids, so that guests can use the telephone in hotel facilities.
TTY for outgoing telephone calls: Hotels are required to provide a TTY or similar device at the front desk in order to take calls from guests who use TTYs in their rooms. This will ensure that guests with hearing impairments can access hotel services such as making inquiries of the front desk and ordering room service.
Wake up calls and alarm clocks: In order to provide equally accessible wake-up call or alarm clock service, hotels must be able to provide visual and tactile (bed vibrator) ringers for guests. These are simple devices that connect the telephone ringer to a light that flashes and a bed vibrator that shakes the bed when the telephone or doorbell rings.
TV decoders: Hotels are also required to have television closed caption decoders available upon request for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. All new televisions with screens over 13 inches in diameter are equipped with decoder capability. Older televisions can be made accessible with a decoding device, which is plugged into the television.
Safety Equipment – Visual and Tactile Alerting Devices: Hotels must provide adequate visual and/or tactile alerting devices for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, so that he or she will be awakened and alerted to an emergency fire or smoke alarm, an incoming telephone call, or a door knock. This equipment can be permanently installed in guest rooms (see below), or temporarily installed in a guest room using portable equipment. In addition to the requirements of the ADA, local fire codes may require hotels to have visible flashing smoke alarms with adequate strobe and candela power to alert a deaf person to an emergency.
Interpreters and Transcription Services: When a hotel provides entertainment services or other public events, or rents its facilities to tenants who provide public entertainment or educational activities, then the hotel has an obligation to ensure effective communication during these events. For most such events, the appropriate auxiliary aids or services would be qualified interpreters, computer-aided transcription services (also called CART), or assistive listening systems/devices for persons who do not use sign language.
When a portable, nonstructural, device is available to remove a communication barrier, it is considered to be an auxiliary aid or service, and not an architectural modification. Examples of devices that are considered to be auxiliary aids or services include portable visual alarms and visual alerting systems, telephone handsets with amplifiers, television decoders, bed vibrators, and TTYs. They are to be provided by the hotel to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, regardless of the number of individuals who request them, unless such provision is an undue burden.
The hotel must take these steps to ensure equal treatment, unless it can demonstrate that taking these steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services, or would result in an undue burden (significant difficulty or expense). Even if the public accommodation is able to demonstrate that there is a fundamental alteration or an undue burden in the provision of a particular auxiliary aid or service it must, however, be prepared to provide an alternative auxiliary aid or service, where one exists.
Removal of Architectural Barriers in Existing Hotel Facilities:
In addition to the requirement to provide auxiliary aids and services, hotels must also remove some architectural barriers, including communications barriers that are “structural in nature.” The hotel must make such removal only where the removal of the barrier is “readily achievable, i.e. easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”
One example of a readily achievable architectural barrier to communication is flashing alarm lights (e.g., for fire/smoke alarms or doorbells or other notification systems).
Permanently installed assistive listening devices, flashing fire/smoke alarms, doorbell lights, and other notification systems, electrical outlets for TTY use near the telephone, and pay TTYs are all important means of eliminating architectural barriers to communication. Providing such services for deaf or hard of hearing guests would usually be “readily achievable.” In addition, some state laws already require hotels to have visual smoke/fire alarm systems for their deaf or hard of hearing guests.
An existing hotel is not required to make existing structures more accessible than the requirements for new buildings (see below).
The rules for new construction are a maximum, not a minimum. Therefore, as with newly constructed hotels, a hotel is not obligated to make more than 8 percent of its rooms permanently barrier-free for deaf individuals, even if doing so would be “readily achievable.”
However, there is no such numerical limit for the requirement to provide “auxiliary aids and services” such as portable TTYs, portable decoders, tactile alarms, and other temporary devices, as long as the requests to provide such services do not constitute an “undue burden” on the hotel facility. Hotels may be required to procure additional devices when the number of requests they receive for such devices exceeds the number of units that they have on site.
New Construction and Renovation Requirements:
New and newly altered hotels must be built to comply with very explicit requirements detailed in a document titled the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG), 28 C.F.R. Part 36, Appendix A. The standards differ slightly for new construction and for alterations, but the only way that directly affects persons who are deaf or hard of hearing is in the provision of interior public text telephones.
ADAAG requires at least 4 percent of the first 100 hotel rooms and approximately 2 percent of rooms in excess of 100 to be accessible to both mobility-impaired and deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
The minimum standards for physical accessibility in hotel rooms incorporate the requirement to provide visual alarms, notification devices, and accessible telephones.
An identical percentage of additional rooms must be accessible to deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
Therefore, at least 8 percent of the first 100 rooms must have built-in visual alarms, visual notification devices for the door and telephone, volume-control telephones, and an accessible electrical outlet for a TTY in proximity to the telephone. The accessible rooms must be dispersed among classes of sleeping accommodations (e.g., luxury to basic).
The requirement to provide both audible and visual alarms is clear and the minimum standards for visual alarms in restrooms, hallways, general usage areas, etc., are found in ADAAG 4.28.3 (integrated into the building alarm system, minimum photometric and location features such as color, pulse, candela). Minimum standards for auxiliary alarms in accessible sleeping accommodations are in ADAAG 4.28.4.
There is “advisory” language about the effectiveness of visual alarms and the preference for tactile alarms to waken sleepers. ADAAG 4.28.4.
The ratio of rooms in a hotel that must be accessible for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing are as follows:
1 to 25 =2
26 to 50 =4
51 to 75 =6
76 to 100 =8
101 to 150 =10
151 to 200 =12
201 to 300 =14
301 to 400 =16
401 to 500 =18
501 to 1000 =4% of total
1001 and over 40 plus 2 for each 100 over 100
If you are a hotel owner or operator and you have any questions regarding the information provided, please contact me directly.