Nov102010

Hilton to remodel 900 hotels in U.S. ADA violations settlement

Hilton settled with the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessible hotels. The settlement includes a $50,000 civil penalty and Hilton is ordered to bring hotels built after January 26, 1993 in compliance with ADA requirements for accessible facilities and rooms.

The lawsuit stemmed from Hilton failing to provide accessible rooms with roll-in showers and tubs to people with disabilities and not having a sufficient supply of rooms at its hotels. The difficulty of reserving an accessible room was also mentioned.

Hilton is required to ensure franchise properties are in compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act to remain branded with Hilton.

Here is the full U.S. Department of Justice statement from November 9, 2010.

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Hilton Worldwide Inc. Over ADA Violations at Hilton Hotels and Major Hotel Chains Owned by Hilton

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department and Hilton Worldwide Inc. today announced a comprehensive, precedent-setting agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will make state-of-the-art accessibility changes to approximately 900 hotels nationwide. The agreement is in the form of a proposed consent decree filed today in federal court to resolve a simultaneously filed lawsuit under the ADA.

The department’s complaint alleges that Hilton’s hotels designed and constructed after Jan. 26, 1993, fail to comply with the ADA and Department of Justice regulations. Hilton operates a system of hotels throughout the United States under the trade and service names of “Hilton,” “Conrad Hotels & Resorts,” “Doubletree,” “Embassy Suites,” “Hampton Inn,” “Hilton Garden Inn,” “Hilton Grand Vacations,” “Homewood Suites,” “the Waldorf Astoria” and “Home2Suites.” Hilton Worldwide Inc. (HWI), owns, operates, or has entered into and maintains franchise license agreements for each hotel in the HWI system.

“The ADA protects the right of people with disabilities to stay in accessible hotel rooms, and to reserve those hotel rooms through the same convenient systems as everyone else,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “Persons with disabilities who travel for pleasure or business must be able to count on getting the accessible room they reserved, and the hotel must provide the choice of amenities that everyone comes to expect from a major national hotel chain like Hilton.”

The agreement is the result of a lengthy investigation and negotiation. Hilton officials cooperated with the department throughout the process. Allegations in the department’s complaint include failure to provide the required number of accessible rooms, failure to disperse accessible rooms among the various categories of available accommodations, failure to provide individuals with disabilities the ability to reserve accessible rooms through Hilton’s central reservations system on-line or by telephone, and failure to provide individuals with disabilities with the accessible sleeping accommodations that they reserved.

Today’s settlement represents the first time the Department of Justice has required a franchisor to require all franchised or managed hotels that enter into a new franchise or management agreement, experience a change in ownership, or renew or extend a franchise agreement, to conduct a survey of its facilities and to certify that the hotel complies with the ADA. It is also the first time that an agreement under the ADA has specifically detailed how a hotel reservations system should be made accessible. The agreement also represents the first time that a hotel chain has been required to make its online reservations system accessible and to provide on its website current data about accessible features in guest rooms throughout the chain.

Under the agreement:

  • All owned and joint venture hotels built after Jan. 26, 1993 will be surveyed and brought into compliance with Department of Justice ADA title III regulations, including dispersing accessible rooms among the various classes of available accommodations, providing accessible rooms with roll-in showers and tub seats, and providing accessible rooms for guests with hearing impairments;
  • For franchised and managed hotels built after Jan. 26, 1993, where Hilton enters into a new franchise or management agreement, renews or extends an agreement for more than six months, or agrees to a change of ownership, Hilton will require the owners to survey their hotels for compliance with specified provisions of the ADA, and where necessary, bring their hotels into compliance;
  • Hotels constructed in the future will be required to comply with the ADA;
  • Specific ADA training will be provided for staff;
  • Hilton’s reservations system will be improved so individuals with disabilities can reserve accessible rooms with specific available options and amenities, and have the same opportunity to guarantee a reservation for an accessible room as that offered for any other reservation;
  • Hilton will improve the accessibility of its websites;
  • Hilton will appoint a national ADA compliance officer responsible for Hilton’s compliance with the ADA and the consent decree;
  • Hilton will appoint ADA on-site contact persons at each hotel responsible for resolving ADA-related complaints at the local level; and
  • Hilton will pay a civil penalty of $50,000 to the United States.

People interested in finding out more about the ADA or this consent decree can call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access the ADA website at www.ada.gov.

http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/November/10-crt-1268.html

Accessible Bathroom in Suite at Westin Market Street San Francisco

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. This is good news overall, but I’m concerned (eg uncertain) if the settlement agreement has tangible provisions that would enhance the accessibility of Hilton Hotels for people who are blind or visually impaired. Fortunately I’m meeting with DOJ on December 16th so maybe I can obtain some clarrification.

    Some accessibility considerations are:

    1. Digital Room Thermostats: Often digital thermostats are not accessible, and many models do not even have tactile features that may allow someone to guess what the function buttons do. For example, if a thermostat had tactually distinguishable up and down arrows, facing up and down, one may be able to insinuate how to raise and lower the temperature. This is not a complete accessibility solution, but many digital thermostat models lack even this basic level of what we call universal design;

    2. Toiletry Product, Coffee Packaging:
    These products are not packaged with tactile markings such that a blind person can readily tell whether a package of coffee is regular or decafinated, or tell the difference between shampoo, lotion, and conditioner. Again, if these products or their labels had tactile indications this would benefit the blind as well as others eg someone in a steamy shower trying to see which bottle was the shampoo vs. conditioner;

    3. Accessible Access To Hotel Information:
    Most hotels do not provide Braille guest service directories, room service menus, or text documents that describe the layout of lobbey, retail, or meeting spaces. Furthermore, most hotels do not provide this level of detailed information on their web sites. Again, think of the room service menu as a textbook example;

    4. Checkin Kiosks, Business Center Computers, In Room Entertainment:
    While the techniques and tools exist to make such products and services accessible, Hilton and other hotel groups have not embraced accessibility and universal design. Things like checkin kiosks, business center computers, and other in room entertainment and technology devices do not have nonvisual interfaces such as screen readers. The hotels also do not provide a mechanism, to compliment say for example the feature on the tv where one can review an updated folio, on their web sites which would provide some level of accessibility to blind guests bringing in their own mobile devices or computers. As with most things accessibility, such web interfaces to this data would broadly benefit the public at large.

    These are just 4 things I can think of off the top of my head before I have finished my first cup of coffee.

  2. Mika – You provide valuable insight into the accessibility needs of different individuals.

    Many frequent guests are not even aware of room design constraints. I certainly had never thought of some of the items you mention. Toiletry and coffee packaging is something I have never considered. I frequently have difficulty figuring out the decaf from regular coffee as a person with sight.

    Last summer when traveling with my mother-in-law I needed to arrive at the hotel and physically inspect the rooms to find the suitable style that allowed her to move around the room without difficulty among the few accessible rooms in each hotel.

    Many accessible rooms have bars by the toilet and tub for support, but may not offer a roll-in shower which is what we required during our stays.

  3. Another problem is that hotels assume that accessibility features for people with physical disabilities or limitations, or for the deaf, might somehow benefit the blind. When in fact, those kinds of designs do not help a blind person. It gets to a 1 size fits all mentality eg the hotel thinks all disabilities are the same. Hotels also often think, mistakenly, that all blind people want to perhaps stay on a lower floor, or near the elevator.

    At one point, based on my request, the Hilton Boston Logan Airport did Braille all their guest service materials. However, this was a local effort, and as management changed, I am not sure they have kept these materials up to date, or if a blind person checked in today if they would even still have them or offer them, FYI this was done in about 2002.

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