DOT Expands Disability Rules for Cruise Ships

As a follow on to recently announced airline passenger rights regulations, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced the first federal rule to specifically provide Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections to people with disabilities who travel on boats and ships. The action comes as the 20th anniversary of the ADA approaches on July 26, the DOT notes.

“This Administration is committed to protecting the rights of passengers with disabilities in all modes of transportation,” said Secretary Ray LaHood. “This rule will ensure fair treatment for people with disabilities who travel by ship or boat.”

The rule applies to two categories of vessels: vessels operated by public entities (such as public ferry systems) and vessels operated by private entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people (such as cruise ships).

The rule will ensure that vessel operators’ policies do not discriminate against passengers with disabilities. Under the rule, vessel operators cannot charge extra for accessibility-related services to passengers, cannot require passengers to furnish their own attendants, and cannot deny access to passengers based on disability.

Vessel operators will have to provide information to passengers about the accessibility of their facilities and services and make a knowledgeable person available to resolve accessibility concerns. the DOT said.

This rule does not establish physical accessibility standards for new construction or alteration of vessels. The Access Board, an independent agency, is currently developing proposed accessibility guidelines that the Department would adopt in a subsequent rulemaking.

Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations will cover a third category of vessels not covered by DOT’s rules – those operated by private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people, such as fishing charters and dinner cruise boats, the DOT said.

The new rule will become effective 120 days after it is published. There will be a 90-day comment period concerning three issues: whether vessel operators should be required to allow passengers with disabilities to bring emotional support animals on board, requirements operators must follow concerning the use of mobility aids, and the relationship of DOT and DOJ disability rules.


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