The ADA and Your Responsibility as an Owner or Operator
By William A. Brewer III Managing Partner, Bickel & Brewer | January 08, 2012
Co-authored by Aravella Simotas, Associate, Bickel & Brewer
In 2010, the DOJ announced that it had entered into a precedent-setting agreement with Hilton Worldwide, Inc. calling for state-of-the-art accessibility changes to approximately 900 hotels within the Hilton network. The deal, struck after a system-wide investigation of Hilton's operations, is significant because it is the first time that the DOJ required a hotel chain to provide current data about accessible guest rooms through its telephonic and on-line reservations system.
It is also the first time a hotel franchisor was compelled to ensure that all its franchised and managed hotels certify ADA compliance. These requirements highlight that the DOJ is expanding the scope of its application of the law. Therefore, owners and managers should be aware of their responsibilities under the ADA.
The DOJ's Findings – Going Beyond the Concrete to the Virtual
The Hilton agreement was reached after a 90-day investigation of 13 properties under the Hilton brand, including economy, mid-market and upscale hotels. In addition to identifying typical architectural and communications barriers at the properties surveyed, the DOJ found that Hilton failed to provide the mandatory number of accessible sleeping quarters and allocate the proper number of accessible rooms among available classes of accommodations. More importantly, the DOJ concluded that individuals with disabilities are unable to review the hotel chain's inventory of accessible rooms or make a reservation for such accommodations using Hilton's web-based and telephonic central reservations system.
As is common throughout the industry, Hilton accepts online and telephone reservations for the properties it owns or franchises. Hilton owns and operates its web-based and telephonic central reservations system, Hilton Reservations & Customer Care (HRCC) through a wholly-owned subsidiary, and requires all franchisees to accept reservations and prioritize reservations made through the system. Hilton launched HRCC over a decade ago, and operates nine contact centers worldwide that provide voice and Internet reservations and customer service to more than 100,000 customers per day.