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Cruises Cater to Disabled

Specials Needs Vacationers Enjoy the Freedom of a Cruise

Modern cruise ships are truly engineering marvels, but what responsibility do foreign passenger ships have to comply with the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when in US waters? Cruise ships, although seen by many people as being "floating hotels", are obviously quite different than land-based buildings and, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling, may require a completely different set of engineering principles.

Statistics show that one in five Americans has a special need affecting their lifestyles. The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL), representing 16 of the largest cruise lines in the world, believes that passengers with special needs, and their families and friends, are a vital segment of the cruise industry's growth. Moreover, a growing number of people the ADA is designed to protect see cruising as a viable vacation choice, perhaps their only practical choice to see the world. The cruise line industry has recently shown a strong desire to cater to those with disabilities, but says it must balance that desire against the cost of making radical engineering changes to existing cruise ships.

Most cruise lines now offer public areas and staterooms large enough for those dependent on wheelchairs including accessible bathroom with railings and emergency call buttons. Braille coded elevator buttons, room numbers, and restaurant menus are also in place on most ships for those with vision disabilities and guide dogs are also now widely welcomed. Many cruise lines provide a TTY, a text messaging device, that allows easier communication for folks with hearing disabilities. There are even some cruise lines that include a variety of tours in the ports they visit that can accommodate guests with special needs.

One thing to be aware of: Nearly every cruise line requests that special needs guests provide advance notification of their requirements at the time of booking to ensure that the necessary accommodations are available.

A trip aboard a modern cruise ship may in fact be the best choice for a person with special needs as well as their friends and family who wish to travel as a group. More and more in today's competitive cruise markets, people with special needs can truly experience the world and the delights and comforts of a modern floating resort.

In the case of Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd, the US Supreme Court reached three important conclusions about how ADA will be interpreted and applied when it comes to foreign cruise ships in US waters.

First, the court held that foreign cruise ships in US waters can be held liable to disabled passengers for discriminatory policies and practices. Second, as a general rule, US laws are presumed not to apply to the internal affairs of foreign ships in US waters, and the court held that ADA probably cannot require permanent, substantial structural changes to passenger ships if it would interfere with the "internal affairs" of the vessel. The court broadly expanded the meaning of "internal affairs" in its ruling to include a ship's basic design and construction. Third, structural changes that could conflict with international treaties or threaten shipboard safety are likely not considered "readily achievable" and might not be required anyway.

Unfortunately, other than setting forth these broad rules and recognizing that there are limits to the structural changes that can reasonably be required on foreign ships under ADA, the Court did not provide much in the way of details. The resulting vagueness of the ruling leaves open much for interpretation. Fortunately, the cruise industry appears to already be doing a great deal to open its doors to people with physical disabilities by retrofitting older ships and designing and building new ships to meet the special-needs passenger market.

(Source: Travel Wire News)

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