DOT Releases Proposed Cruise Ship Guidelines

For those of you following the cruise ship accessibility saga, today?s Federal Register contains the Department of Transportation (DOT) portion of the proposed rules regarding passenger vessel access for vessels subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Not to be confused with the proposed access guidelines already drafted by the US Access Board.

Huh?

Simply put, the Access Board rules focus on architectural specifications (door width and such) while the DOT rules deal with nondiscrimination as far as service and policy issues are concerned. In both cases these rules will apply to foreign-flagged ships that dock at US ports.

Issues addressed in the DOT rules include:

  • Can cruise lines refuse passage to disabled passengers?
  • Can cruise lines require medical certification (a doctor?s note) of a passenger?s disability?
  • Are cruise lines required to offer accessible cabins available in all price ranges, and what financial remedies are available if they don?t?
  • Can cruise lines require that a disabled person cruise with an attendant or sign a waiver of liability?
  • Are cruise lines required to bump able-bodied passengers out of accessible cabins under certain circumstances?
  • Is medical certification required in order to book an accessible cabin?
  • Can cruise lines limit the number of disabled passengers on their ships?
  • Do passengers have to disclose their disability or provide the cruise line with any type of advance notice of said disability?

In the end, the rules are closely modeled after the Air Carrier Access Act, which comes as no surprise since the DOT is the issuing agency in both cases. And as with any federal document the rules are cumbersome; far too cumbersome to cover in their entirety in one blog entry. So over the course of the next few weeks I will break them down and discuss the important issues in plain and simple language.

The good news is that these are just proposed rules, and public comments will be accepted by the DOT until April 23, 2007.

Stay tuned. I?m traveling to Daytona Beach tomorrow, but I plan to take the rules with me. The first subject addressed will be the issue of booking accessible cabins ? will medical certification be required and will disabled passengers be able to displace able-bodied passengers booked in an accessible cabin?