DOT proposes new passenger vessel access regulations
DOT proposes extending ADA to all passenger vessels (01/23/2007)
Following up on a Supreme Court ruling in 2005, the Transportation Dept. has
formally proposed to issue a new package of regulations to extend the
Americans with Disabilities Act to passenger vessels, including
foreign-flagged cruise ships.
The proposals deal with the "policies and conditions relating to
transportation of passengers with disabilities" rather than with matters
involving vessel operations and physical or architectural barriers. Those
matters are being dealt with separately by the U.S. Access Board, a federal
agency devoted to accessible design issues.
For now, the DOT's proposal is confined to matters such as making sure that
reservations information is accessible to the blind and deaf and insuring
that vessel operators accept assistive devices (i.e., wheelchairs, walkers)
and service animals without question.
The rules would prohibit vessel operators from requiring disabled guests to
give advance notice, from limiting the number of disabled guests (there
would be exceptions for group bookings), from requiring the use of services
or assistance that the guest does not request. Terminal and transfer
facilities (i.e., shuttle bus transfer operations) are also covered.
The rules would cover all vessels, including cruise ships; ferries and
government-operated ferries such as the Alaska Marine Highway; river boats;
local dinner and sightseeing boats; fishing boats; and floating barges used
as dockside attractions and casinos. Foreign-flagged cruise ships are
specifically covered when the ship picks up passengers at ports in the U.S.,
its possessions, territories or commonwealths.
The applicability of the ADA to foreign-flagged ships was a bone of
contention in the industry for several years until the Supreme Court ruled
in 2005 that elements of the law can be applied to foreign-flag ships
serving U.S. ports without running afoul of international maritime treaties.
The DOT regulations would contain an escape clause under which an operator
of a foreign flag vessel could seek a waiver of any provision that conflicts
with a "binding legal requirement of a foreign nation."
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in today's Federal Register, the
DOT asked for industry and public comment on the plan by April 23. Details
are online at http://dms.dot.gov. Refer to Docket 26829.
Please consider reviewing these and sending in your comments. Every comment is reviewed...any is important.
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