Cruises, Questions & the ADA

As expected, I got a lot of e-mail this week following the long-awaited Supreme Court decision on Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. As with most decisions, it created a lot of questions.

At the top of the list is, ?So this means all cruise lines are going to have to make their ships accessible, right??

Well, not exactly.

Actually the lower court will decide to what extent structural changes are required, however the high court did offer some guidance on that matter in their majority opinion. According to Justice Kennedy, structural changes will have to be readily achievable and (under international law) they cannot alter a ship?;s design or threaten the safety of passengers or crew.

So what does that leave?

Well according to Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, personal assistance is at the top of the list. In fact he said his group would offer more personal assistance to disabled passengers, rather than making permanent, structural changes to its ships.

Thomas Goldstein, who argued the plaintiff?s case before the Supreme Court interprets the decision to mean that straightforward structural changes such as grab bars and lower water fountains will be required.

In the end, readily achievable will most likely be decided on a case-by-case basis, but the general feeling is that extensive retrofitting will not be required.

Of course, there will most likely be some type of access standards for newly constructed ships. The Access Board will ultimately decide what those standards will be, when they release the final guidelines for passenger vessels.

It should also be noted that the ships mentioned in this case are pretty old. In fact the (original) Norwegian Star has already left the fleet (it was replaced by a new vessel of the same name) and the Norwegian Sea will be removed this summer. So injunctive relief on those specific vessels is not possible.

On a positive note, NCL is building more accessible vessels today. Perhaps it?s just a response to the growing market, but the new Pride of America is nicely accessible with 22 wheelchair-accessible staterooms (including suites). It also flies the American flag.