Washington, D.C. (July 2, 2012) – The Fourth of July holiday is expected to be one of the busiest travel days of the year, with millions of Americans traveling to our nation’s hotels to enjoy the sun from the comfort of swimming pools. This year, a coalition of disability rights organizations are joining together to demand that the hotel industry stop blocking Americans with disabilities, including a growing number of disabled American veterans, from equal access to swimming pools.
Some of the country’s leading hotel chains, including Kimpton (NYSE: LHO), Sheraton (NYSE: HOT), and Staybridge Suites (NYSE: IHG) — led by their trade group, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) – continues its fight to block equal access to America’s swimming pools for people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs.
“It’s stunning to me that the hotel industry is drawing this line in the sand — refusing to treat all customers fairly and serve all customers equally,” said Mark Perriello, President and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). “In the midst of summer vacations and holiday travel plans, millions of Americans with disabilities are shaking our heads in disgust that the so-called ‘hospitality industry’ is turning its back on mothers, fathers, veterans, and children – and countless other full-paying customers with disabilities.”
“It is fundamentally unfair to expect people with disabilities to pay for an amenity that they cannot access,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, the nation’s largest provider of legal services to people with disabilities. “Access is a civil right and we will explore every option available to us to ensure that right is upheld.”
Over 50 million Americans with disabilities, including our nation’s veterans and senior citizens, will be unable to enjoy access to swimming pools this holiday, due to the industry’s lobbying efforts in Washington, DC, to stop implementation of recent Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations requiring that hotels install permanent lifts if installation is “readily achievable.” These efforts come despite the hotel industry’s record-breaking profits this year. (According to an STR Host Study, hotel profits are up and growth is expected through 2015. In 2011, the hotel industry reported a gross operating profit of 48.8 % — an increase from 48% during 2010.)
“It’s really a shame that the hotel industry continues to refuse to accommodate those of us who are wheelchair users,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “We worked for years to get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed back in 1990, but we continue to fight for equal access to facilities to this day. We will not simply go away or sit on the sidelines in this fight — we will keep working and keep organizing until Americans with disabilities truly have equal access in this country.”
According to a Harris Poll conducted in conjunction with Open Doors Organization and the Travel Industry of America, “the 50 million people with disabilities in our country have a combined income of more than $1.75 billion. In 2002, this community took 32 million trips and spent more than $13.6 billion on travel ($4.2 billion on hotels, $3.3 billion on airfare, $2.7 billion on food and beverage, and $3.4 billion on retail, transportation, and other activities).” In fact, the study suggests that, “these travelers would double their spending if some minor amenities were made available. Meet and greet programs at airports, preferred seating on airplanes, hotel rooms closer to amenities, and employees who go out of their way to accommodate guests with disabilities topped the list.”
In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) clarified a rule on access to hotel pools, asking hotel owners to provide access to swimming pools in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like all ADA requirements, this rule would have some flexibility for existing pools that could not be retrofitted and businesses for whom this would be a financial burden. However, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) refused to agree to a mutually-acceptable compromise. Even after the DOJ clarified that hotel owners had significant latitude to choose whether to install a fixed lift, and also grandfathered-in pools that already had portable ones, the AH&LA chose to spend millions of dollars on high-paid lobbyists to roll back the recent rule requirement — thereby rolling back civil rights legislation. Rather than spending money to ensure equal access regardless of physical ability, the AH&LA is pushing for legislation in Congress that would amend the ADA to exclude pools lifts or ensure that the DOJ does not have the funds to enforce any final rule.
ADAPT is a national grassroots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. See more online at www.adapt.org.
The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), individuals with disabilities, and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States. See more online at www.ncil.org.
The National Disability Rights Network is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP). Collectively, the P&A/CAP network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States. See more online at www.napas.org.
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The American Association of People with Disabilities is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities.