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Accessibility Surveys for Hotels

Christy Kim, AIA, CASp, reviews the basics of accessibility surveys and ADA compliance for hospitality properties

An Overview of Accessibility Surveys/ ADA Compliance for Hospitality Buildings

As places of public accommodation, hotels and other hospitality properties are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Property owners and operators can bear liability for non-compliance with the ADA, and properties such as hotels are particularly vulnerable due to the number of potential barriers and the continuous presence of the general public. Therefore, an Accessibility Assessment becomes a key tool in helping to protect property owners from liability by making owners aware of what their risks are as it relates to accessibility. This applies to whether you are building a new lodging facility or purchasing an existing property.

As part of an Accessibility Assessment, a qualified building assessor with knowledge in accessibility regulations evaluates the accessible public routes through the exterior and interior portions of a property, as well as the configuration of parking spaces, ramps, stairs, signage, public spaces, restrooms, signage and more. When reviewing a hotel property for ADA compliance, the assessor must include guest rooms, lobbies, restaurants, service counters, pool areas, and other amenities that are open to the public. Depending on the requirements of the property owner or lender, various levels of assessment can be performed, yielding various levels of detail in the Accessibility Report. For new lodging facilities, an Accessibility Assessment can include a plan review, construction progress monitoring visits, and a final assessment of the facility when it is complete.

Property owners may assume that because their property was constructed prior to a certain date, they will be exempt from ADA regulations due to “grandfathering.” This is a common misconception, but in fact, there is no grandfathering clause in the ADA. ADA is a retroactive law that requires the removal of barriers that are “readily achievable”, even if they were constructed prior to 1993. Determining whether the removal of existing barriers is “readily achievable” requires weighing the cost of improvements against the property owner’s means to fund them. An Accessibility Report will identify architectural barriers at the property, and select reports will also include a general opinion of cost to remove those barriers.

A final note: Accessibility Assessments are focused on physical / architectural barriers to access—that is, physical components of the subject building and surrounding property. The assessment will not cover business and communication practices, such as reservation services and emergency alerts, or policies and practices of the hotels operation. Business owners should be aware that all services, benefits, and protections afforded to able-bodied visitors should be equally made available to patrons with disabilities.