Crossing the Line

Last week I discussed how sometimes some basic common sense can help things go a little smoother access-wise, as it pertains to privacy. As you recall, travel and tourism providers can’t ask you the details of your disability, but they can ask what accommodations you require. It’s really a fine line, one that often leads to some miscommunication because hospitality folks are afraid to ask too much, for fear they’ll break the law. So sometimes you have to volunteer a bit, just so they have a full understanding of your disability.

Then we have the other side of the coin. What do you do when they ask too much?

That’s an even tougher call, as illustrated by a story a travel agent friend recently told me. She had a cruise client on Princess Cruise Line who needed an accessible room, but who did not use a wheelchair. According to Princess, because of the new Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations they now have to ask if the passenger uses a wheelchair or a scooter, and if they don’t, they can’t give them an accessible room. So that kind of left my friend up a creek without a paddle.

First and foremost let me explain what Princess is doing is illegal. Although there are no architectural guidelines for access on cruise ships, they are covered by the anti-discrimination regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act. And under those regulations they cannot ask about the details of your disability, unless they need the information to provide a specific service, such as lift-equipped transportation.

Second, Princess got the DOT regulations wrong. The regulations only require the cruise lines to get passengers to self-certify that they need the accessible cabin, and they can’t ask if you use a wheelchair or a scooter. They can however ask if you require an accessible cabin because of a disability, and ask you to sign a form to that effect.

But Princess is making it hard for folks. After all, not everyone who needs an accessible cabin uses a wheelchair or a scooter. Some — like my mother-in-law — just get around a little slower and need some extra support in the bathroom. Apparently this was the case with my friend’s client too — she needed toilet grab bars, a roll-in shower and a shower bench. And to be honest, it would be unsafe for either of them to travel without those accommodations.

In any case, I asked my friend how she solved the problem. She said, “I lied. It was what I had to do to get the client the room she needed. It’s not her fault that Princess doesn’t understand the law. Plus once you get past the gatekeeper, I’m told that Princess doesn’t keep any records about assistive devices. If I wouldn’t have said she uses a wheelchair I never would have gotten past the gatekeeper.”

And as much as I hate to condone lying, I do understand her logic.

And I understand why the regulations were put in place — to make sure the accessible cabins weren’t booked by able-bodied passengers who merely wanted more room without having to pay extra for it. But seriously, excluding people who don’t use a wheelchair or a scooter is clearly not the answer here.

So unfortunately I don’t have any advice for you, if you happen to fall into this widening crack that Princess created. I can’t in good conscience tell you to lie; but I can make you aware of the problem. You can either say what you need to say, or take your business elsewhere at least until Princess decides to actually abide by the ADA!

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