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ADA Lawyer alert for hotels and restaurants: ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) put on hold so Obama administration can review.

Hotel Lawyers | Authors of
26 February 2009

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Hotel ADA Compliance and Defense Lawyers: ADAAG implementation delayed by Obama administration.

At, like most of our colleagues in the hotel and restaurant industries, we support the ADA’s purpose and intent to grant reasonable access to disabled persons. But the devil is always in the details. For example, it is one matter to build new facilities in compliance with current reasonable standards, but it is another matter to require a massive retrofit of existing facilities. And ambiguities in the law should not be used, with hindsight, to punish reasonable, good-faith attempts to comply. Critical “details” of great importance are the focus of proposed changes in the guidelines for ADA compliance.

We hope that the “hold” put on implementation of the new guidelines requested by President Obama means that the well-reasoned comments of the AH&LA and other concerned parties will be considered more seriously. See Hospitality Lawyer with urgent ADA warning: You won’t believe what they want to do with ADA now.

ADA Compliance perspective

With the increasing importance of ADA compliance for hotels, restaurants, and other public places, we are lucky to have a team that can help set up ADA compliance approaches and programs to minimize later issues on new construction, rehab, and defense of ADA claims from the government or private litigants. Our team is led by Marty Orlick, a seasoned veteran who has seen ADA issues tested in defending more than 300 ADA lawsuits, many of them involving hotels, restaurants and hospitality facilities.

Marty stresses that our role is not avoid the ADA, but rather to help clients interpret the often murky requirement to understand what their obligations are and develop reasonable plans for compliance that are likely to meet the test of future challenge.

We also help owners, operators and others effectively deal with litigation brought under the ADA.

After talking with Marty and his team, here is what is going on with the ADAAG proposals and what we think it means.

Pending changes to ADAAG withdrawn pending further review

On January 20, 2009, in a memo to all heads of executive departments and agencies, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel communicated President Obama’s directive that all proposed or final regulations not yet published in the Federal Register were to be withdrawn, pending the review and approval by the new administration. This regulatory review includes the proposed new guidelines under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Background – New Guidelines Proposed by the Access Board

The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by former President George H.W. Bush. Former President George W. Bush was intent on updating the new ADA guidelines while he was in office, as part of his father’s legacy.

The proposed changes are to the American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) which were adopted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1991, and which have been changed from time to time over the years.

The proposed new guidelines contain the most sweeping amendments to date. Since 2004, the Access Board — which is charged with developing and promulgating design accessible requirements for the built environment, transportation facilities and telecommunications equipment — has been involved in a substantial review, analysis and development of the guidelines, in an attempt to address the significant technological, legal and practical changes that have occurred over the years.

The proposed changes to ADAAG were released by the DOJ, which is charged with enforcing the ADA, and published in the Federal Register on June 17, 2008. The Access Board and the DOJ received comments from government agencies, technical experts, architects, communities, state and local officials, and industry groups, such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association which offered substantial input.

Changes Would Affect Hotels, Restaurants, Retail, Financial Institutions, Recreational Facilities, Fitness Centers and Others

If enacted as proposed, the new guidelines could cause all businesses which are open to the public — particularly hotels, restaurants and retail properties — to build new facilities to standards and to retrofit their properties regardless of whether they are in compliance with current ADA guidelines.

It may also force changes to be made to websites so that online shopping as well as making hotel and restaurant reservations can be fully available to vision impaired customers. More technical refinements are proposed for financial institutions such as “talking ATM’s” and more stringent requirements for online banking.

New guidelines are also proposed for the health and fitness industry and recreational facilities. For others, like utility companies, new requirements for public rights-of-way could cause significant changes to be made.

Safe Harbor Provision

A significant proposal by the DOJ is the “safe harbor” for certain existing Title III-covered facilities. The safe harbor proposal, if adopted, exempts certain covered facilities from barrier removal obligations under the proposed guidelines if the facilities comply with the 1991 Standards. A safe harbor provision would mitigate the impact of the proposed regulations on existing facilities.

Stay Tuned

Stringent new ADA rules that require significant capital expenditures, coupled with the current financial crisis, may be the last straw for many businesses.

We don’t know when the new ADAAG will go into effect and whether the guidelines will be any different than the last proposal. We hope so.

Other ADA defense and compliance resources

You can access the full library of ADA materials on Hotel Law Blog by going to the home page, selecting the tab at the top that says “HOTEL LAW TOPICS”, and then clicking on “ADA Defense & Compliance” in the drop down menu . . . or by clicking here.

Below is a partial listing of articles by JMBM’s ADA Defense Lawyer team:

The ADA Compliance and Defense Guide — Free Download

ADA Defense Lawyer: New ADA standards for website accessibility

FAQs on “service animal” requirements of the ADA. What every hotelier needs to know. Why Uber was sued over service animals.

Starwood Hotels and The Phoenician get an expensive (and unnecessary) lesson in ADA compliance. 

DOJ sues 3 of NYC’s top Zagat-rated restaurants for ADA violations

Charles Schwab settles claim over website accessibility

A blast against frivolous, serial ADA lawsuits in striking the right balance

New ADA compliance standards for golf courses. What do they mean to you?

How to handle an ADA lawsuit . . . and How not to do it

How a recent ADA case affects all hotels but particularly conference centers and meeting hotels

ADA Defense Lawyer Alert: Hilton’s ADA Settlement with the Department of Justice: Precedent-setting agreement delivers more than removing architectural barriers

When disabled hotel guests’ needs go beyond the norm for typical guests, what do hotel owners and managers have to do?

ADA Sweeps by U.S. Department of Justice — Coming to a theater district or Hotel near you soon? How to get ready before it’s too late.

Defending ADA lawsuits. How your hotel website can make you a target for ADA lawsuits

Martin OlrickMartin H. Orlick is one of the top ADA defense lawyers in the country. He has helped hotel, restaurant, retail and other commercial property owners defend more than 500 ADA cases. In addition to defending lawsuits and governmental investigations, Marty’s team of ADA specialists focuses on enterprise-wide ADA compliance and litigation prevention, including facilities, website and operational compliance. He is also is a senior member of the law firm’s Global Hospitality Group®, a partner in the real estate department, and a member of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers (ACREL). For more information about ADA compliance and defense, contact Marty Orlick at 415.984.9667 or
Picture of Jim ButlerJim Butler is a founding partner of JMBM, and the founder and chairman of JMBM’s Global Hospitality Group® and Chinese Investment Group™. He is recognized as one of the top hotel lawyers in the world and has authored or co-authored The HMA & Franchise Agreement Handbook, How to Buy a Hotel Handbook, The ADA Compliance and Defense Guide, and The Lenders Handbook. Jim has led the Global Hospitality Group® in more than $68 billion of hotel transactional experience, involving more than 1,500 hotel properties located around the globe. Jim’s team has worked on more than 60 EB-5 projects over the past three years. 310.201-3526 or

This is Jim Butler, author of and hotel lawyer, signing off. We’ve done more than $68 billion of hotel transactions and have developed innovative solutions to unlock value from hotels. Who’s your hotel lawyer?

Our Perspective. We represent hotel owners, developers and investors. We have helped our clients find business and legal solutions for more than $68 billion of hotel transactions, involving more than 1,500 properties all over the world. For more information, please contact Jim Butler at or +1 (310) 201-3526.

Jim Butler is a founding partner of JMBM, and Chairman of its Global Hospitality Group® and Chinese Investment Group™. Jim is one of the top hospitality attorneys in the world. GOOGLE “hotel lawyer” and you will see why. Jim and his team are more than “just” great hotel lawyers. They are also hospitality consultants and business advisors. They are deal makers. They can help find the right operator or capital provider. They know who to call and how to reach them.