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The ADA and Your B&B Architectural Barriers

April 26, 2005

by Kit Cassingham

If you want to keep an ADA law firm practice from contacting you, it's time to work with making your B&B compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn and implement ADA restroom and guestroom requirements. Pay attention to wheelchair accessible construction, as well as other architectural barriers. Be sensitive to the terminology; we don't deal with handicap accessibility, but accessibility. Create an ADA accessibility worksheet
The ADA and Your B&B:
or
Removing Architectural Barriers

Is your B&B inn ADA compliant? Do you have disabled guests using your accessible guestroom(s)? Do you have non-disabled guests using your accessible guestrooms? And enjoying the rooms? Why do we have such requirements? How can you use this law to attract more guests?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed on July 26, 1990. Among other things, the law requires that persons with disabilities (seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, walking, dexterity, mobility) have ready access to public places and services. Individuals with disabilities deserve the same right of enjoyment to goods, services, privileges, benefits and accommodations as the general public. It was designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. It was intended to protect the civil rights of people who have physical and mental disabilities, similarly to the way that civil rights laws have attempted to protect people who are of various races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. The primary difference between the two civil rights laws is the fact that the ADA sometimes requires the modification of facilities and the way that products or services are provided.

The basics of what the law is focusing on, in the B&B arena, is the removal of barriers -- both architectural and communication. Architectural barriers include elements like steps, door knobs (especially placed high on doors, and levers are preferred to knobs), narrow doors, sidewalks without curb cuts, or close/tight furniture arrangements. Communication barriers include signs, phones (such as those without text capability or that are mounted high on a wall), lack of Braille markings (e.g., on elevators -- though ironically only about 10% of blind people actually read Braille), and alarms that provide only audio alerts. The bottom line is, "readily achievable" accommodations must be made for disabled guests. By planning ahead, you can incorporate accessible elements, keeping the expense within the budget and the rooms looking warm and welcoming.

I think there is so much information about the law and how you can use it to your business advantage, it makes sense to break it into two articles. Architectural barriers will be covered this month while next month communications barriers will be the topic.

From reactions I observe, it seems that many -- if not most -- innkeepers look at the ADA as something punitive, an expensive inconvenience. I think that reaction is missing the mark on how to respond to the law. Don't overlook the side benefit of making your B&B inn accessible as a way of also catering to people with temporary disabilities (say due to surgery or injury) and the aging population. If your inn is accessible, then any "variously-abled" person can enjoy your B&B, perhaps to your financial benefit, not detriment! I have found many of the accessible guestrooms I have experienced at B&B inns are quite luxurious, more spacious and less cluttered with decorations. Some innkeepers actually strive to make every guestroom accessible to garner better occupancy, turning a perceived negative into a true positive.

What do B&B innkeepers need to do to comply with this law?

  • all newly constructed buildings and facilities must be readily accessible
  • all altered portions of existing buildings and facilities must be readily accessible
  • all barriers to accessibility in existing buildings and facilities must be removed when it is "readily achievable" to do so

As you are designing your new B&B, be aware that you need to consider not only your accessible guestroom but also your parking, public toilets, public phones, water fountains, and access to goods and services, programs, facilities, and work areas.

When making alterations to your building, the altered portions must made accessible to the maximum extent feasible. Alterations that impact your plans for accessibility includes rehabilitation, remodeling, renovation, restoration, reconstruction, and changes or rearrangement in structural parts or elements or in the configuration of walls and partitions. Generally, historic sites should be altered in such a manner the altered portions are readily accessible. If making the altered portion of a "qualified" historic building readily accessible threatens or destroys the historic significance of that building, certain alternative minimum accessibility standards may be applied.

There are four ways that people with physical disabilities can be accommodated by mixing and matching alternative measures: equipment, architecture, changing the program/location, and personal assistance or service. If your B&B has up to 25 guestrooms, you must provide at least one accessible room. You don't have to provide for a roll-in shower, but they can sure be luxurious and appealing, so you may want to do one anyway.

The issue of service animals is an interesting challenge because of allergy issues. People with disabilities are allowed service animals regardless of your pet policy -- dogs, pigs, monkeys, and horses are among the animals that can be trained and used as service animals. Period. That means you then have a room that's been "contaminated" by an animal's presence, and future guests need to be advised of the allergy potential. A solution I've observed is to establish one room as both the accessible guestroom and the room that allows pets. It is acceptable to get a note from a doctor to verify the need for the service animal (and then apply common sense so you don't end up with an untrained -- in every sense of the word -- animal passing for a service animal). Though I've been told it's "illegal" to ask for proof of the animal's service training, most disabled people carry their service animal's records with them.

Here is my summary of the ADA.

  1. This is a Civil Rights law. It is not a Building Code (though some locals have built the law into their building codes)
  2. More restrictive local laws take precedence over the Federal law
  3. You must have a minimum of one auxiliary aid
  4. The disability types include mobility, sensory, and dexterity

Here are some additional thoughts and points.

  1. Have an ADA question on your reservation form.
  2. Length of stay and level of services affect this law.
  3. If you offer transportation, it must be accessible to disabled people.
  4. Good faith effort is the key to your defense if charged with discrimination.
  5. All new construction must comply to the ADA laws.
  6. Market your accessible rooms, to both the disabled community and to travelers wanting the style of luxury you create in your accessible guestrooms.

Exemptions:

If your inn has fewer than six guestrooms (five and fewer) in one building (more than five rooms or rooms spread out over more than one building means you aren't exempt), and you are owner occupied, then you don't have to comply with the ADA. And if you realize you are exempt, consider complying any way and cater to all people of various physical and mental abilities.

This article is necessarily a brief summary. My e-book, Planning Your Business -- Getting a Handle on the Nuances of Implementing Your Idea, covers it in more detail from a B&B perspective. If you still have questions, spending some time with a qualified consultant can save you a lot of grief down the road. PAII has a great report you can buy on the ADA for small inns.

For ADA resources, search the internet for various sources. And check these resources as well.

  • ADCO Hearing Products, Inc.
    800-726-0851
    303-794-3928
    http://www.adcohearing.com
  • Nationwide Flashing Signal Systems
    301-589-6671
    301-589-6670 TTY
    http://www.nfss.com
  • Handi-Ramp 800-876-7267
    847-680-7700
    http://www.handiramp.com
  • Dept. of Justice
    800-514-0301 (voice)
    800-514-0383 (TDD)
  • HUD-Fair Housing, Information Clearing House
    800-699-9777
    800-927-9275 TDD

The ADA and Your B&B: Communication Barriers, will be published in the next issue.




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