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Ms. Williams

ADA Compliance

ADA Compliance: Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

By Soy Williams, President, Soy Williams Consulting, Inc.

A line of travelers gliding effortlessly through the city scape on Segway® PTs might invoke scenes from a 20th century sci-fi movie. Less commonplace might be an amputee among them using a seat that has been retrofitted onto the device. Something of a novelty still, Segway® PTs have been at the hub of activity in the disability rights realm. These and other power-driven mobility devices have the United States government requiring lodging establishments to permit individuals with mobility disabilities using them in any areas of these facilities.

Technological Advances Lead to Opportunities

Technological advances since 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA") was signed into law have vastly increased opportunities for travelers with disabilities. In addition to the more traditional mobility aids such as manually- or power-driven wheelchairs and scooters, many individuals use devices that are not designed primarily for use by people with disabilities such as electronic personal assistive mobility devices ("EPAMDs"). Today, the most well-known available model is the Segway® Personal Transporter (PT).

EPAMDs, such as Segway® PTs and other power-driven mobility devices offer real benefits to individuals with disabilities. They are being used in traveling for business or pleasure with increasing frequency as they become better adapted to use by individuals with mobility disabilities and more affordable. While these mobility aids benefit people with disabilities, they present new challenges for the lodging industry. The time to prepare for accommodating a guest with a mobility impairment is now, before uninformed front desk staff send an unhappy guest to another establishment or perhaps even the Department of Justice (the "DOJ").

There is growing confusion about what types of mobility devices must be allowed in interior and exterior areas of a lodging establishment. The DOJ has received many complaints from both sides of the issue and became aware of situations where individuals with mobility disabilities have utilized for locomotion golf cars, large wheelchairs with rubber tracks, and gasoline-powered two-wheeled scooters and other devices. Unlike traditional wheelchairs or scooters, these devices, while benefiting many individuals with mobility disabilities, are not designed exclusively for them.

Safety Concerns

Benefits to individuals with disabilities come with concerns regarding safety to other guests with or without disabilities. The basic Segway® PT model, for example, is a two-wheeled battery powered device. Compared to the pace of a walking pedestrian at an average speed of 3 to 4 miles per hour, most Segway® PTs can travel up to 12-1/2 miles per hour, more than twice the speed of most power-operated wheelchairs that can travel at speeds up to around 6 miles per hour. Segway® PT users stand much taller than wheelchair users. Due to the size, speed and the operating features of these devices, some question the safety of their use alongside pedestrians and traditional wheelchair users.

In many areas of a hotel, for example, maneuvering an EPAMD or other power driven mobility device (such as a large wheelchair with rubber tracks) through crowd of people may create safety hazards for pedestrians. Traveling along guest room corridors in an EPAMD may not be as much of a challenge as, say, navigating through a maze of tables in a restaurant or narrow aisles in a hotel retail shop. Other mobility devices that are fuel or combustion engine powered are not suitable for indoor use because of legitimate safety concerns.

Despite concerns, all power-driven mobility devices (whether or not they are designed for use exclusively by individuals with disability) must be permitted everywhere open to pedestrians alongside traditional mobility aids such as manually- or power-operated wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches and scooters.

DOJ Intervenes

Not wanting to limit opportunities for individuals with mobility disabilities and to encourage technological developments, DOJ has very broadly defined other power-driven mobility devices to include golf carts, EPAMDs (e.g. Segway® PTs) or any mobility device if they are designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes.

This does not mean that other power-driven mobility devices must necessarily be allowed in all areas of a lodging establishment open to pedestrian guests. Legitimate safety concerns arising from exhaust emitting, combustion engine powered devices will preclude the use of some power-driven mobility devices in most indoor areas of a motel, hotel or resort. Also, the new DOJ ADA regulations do not require that the built environment be altered to accommodate the physical size and other characteristics of some larger power-driven mobility devices. If all areas of a lodging establishment comply with the appropriate ADA design and construction standards, then a facility will not need to be redesign and reconstruct in order to accommodate other power-driven mobility devices. (Because of its reduced footprint and turning radius, a Segway® PT may be more maneuverable in smaller quarters than wheelchairs or scooters.)

Now is the Time to Establish Policies and Procedures

Hotel and lodging establishment owners or operators should establish policies and procedures to safely accommodate guests who use other power-driven mobility devices. These policies and procedures would be similar in purpose to those necessary to accommodate guests traveling with service animals, or to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms under the same terms using the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms.

Factors to Consider

In determining whether a particular power-driven mobility device is to be allowed in a space, facility or portion of a hotel, motel or other lodging establishment, there are several factors to consider. The following assessment factors are intended to assist owners and operators in determining whether allowing the use of a specific power-driven mobility device is reasonable in a specific facility or under a particular circumstance. These factors include:

  • The type, size, weight, dimensions and speed of the device and whether maximum permitted speed can be established;
  • The facility's or venue's volume of pedestrian traffic (on a given day, week, month or year);
  • The facility's physical condition and operational characteristics, such as the square footage, permitted occupation density, placement of furniture or furnishings; and whether services are provided indoors or outdoors and the availability of storage for the device if requested by the user;
  • Whether legitimate limitations can be established to permit the safe operation of the device in the specific facility or space; and
  • Whether the use of the device creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources.

In addition, the lodging establishment owner or operator should provide individuals with disabilities advance notice of its policies and procedures regarding the use of other power-driven mobility devices and any limitations that might apply to these device.

Implementation Tools

As part of established procedures, an owner or operator can include means to assess and determine whether the use of other power-driven mobility devices by an individual is legitimate under the ADA. Because other power-driven mobility devices are not limited to use solely by individuals with mobility disabilities, people without disabilities may falsely claim that they are qualified to use them.

An owner or operator of the lodging establishment may request credible assurance that the device is being used to accommodate a mobility disability. An establishment may not inquire as to the nature and type of an individual's disability, however. Verbal representation by the user of a power-driven mobility device that the device is necessary should be acceptable, unless contradicted by observable fact. Keep in mind that an individual's disability may not be readily apparent because these devices are used by individuals who have wide range of circulatory, respiratory or neurological disabilities, conditions that affect stamina or function limitations. Presentation of a valid State-issues parking placard or proof of disability are also acceptable.

Presentation of a parking placard or proof of disability does not mean that the lodging establishment must unconditionally permit the use of any power-driven mobility device by the individual everywhere within the entire facility. Again, a policy or procedure by which an establishment can demonstrate that use of a device may create a safety risk or substantial risk to the immediate environment should be in place. A policy, for example, may prohibit fuel-powered scooters or ATVs indoors at all times because of the inherent dangers of the combustion process. Another condition may be restricting the use of battery powered wheelchair or a Segway® PT at or around areas of a hotel or resort such as pools or spas.

Access by golf cart may also be limited in an urban hotel restaurant or a retail shop due to the cart's inappropriate size but perhaps unrestricted when used by an individual with a mobility disability in traveling long distances between facilities at a destination resort. Obviously, golf carts are permitted at a golf course and typically provided for use by all players. Consider, however, that an individual with a mobility disability using a cart for locomotion should be permitted to use the cart in all areas of the course, even those where golf carts have been traditionally prohibited, a la Casey Martin.

Finally, the deadline for establishing policies and procedures to accommodate guests using nontraditional mobility devices has come and gone. A Segway® PT, a large wheelchair with rubber tracks; whatever the device might be, are you prepared to greet and welcome travelers with mobility disabilities using other power-driven mobility devices into your establishment?

Soy Williams is a registered architect with more than 25 years of experience in disability related issues. Ms. Williams specializes in accessibility requirements of federal civil rights laws as well as model, state and local accessibility codes and standards. Ms. Williams became involved in the revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines in 1993 and was appointed by President William Jefferson Clinton to the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the U.S. Access Board) in 2000. During her tenure she saw the completion of the revisions to the ADA guidelines. These guidelines are now the U. S. Department of Justice 2010 requirements for accessible buildings and facilities. Ms. Williams can be contacted at 305-238-9740 or soy@soywilliamsconsulting.com Extended Bio...

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