The ADA and Your B&B: Communication Barriers

The ADA and Your B&B:


Removing Communication Barriers

Last month we reviewed how your inn needs to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding architectural barriers. The questions asked at the beginning of that article are just as relevant for communication barriers. Let me repeat them: Is your B&B inn ADA compliant? Do you have disabled people using your compliant guestroom(s)? Why do we have such requirements? How can you use this law to attract more guests?

To summarize, the ADA was intended to protect the civil rights of people who have physical and mental disabilities. The ADA regulations sometimes require the modification of facilities and the way that products or services are provided for the purpose of making your facility accessible to more people. This month we’ll talk about what modifications you have to make in your communications to accommodate people with disabilities.

The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.” Major life activities include seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, walking, dexterity, mobility, etc. There are disabilities beyond being in a wheelchair.

Title III of the ADA code requires private businesses open to the public to allow individuals with disabilities to participate equally in the offered goods and services. The bottom line is, “readily achievable” accommodations must be made for disabled guests. Planning ahead lets you incorporate accessible elements within budget and have rooms looking warm and welcoming.

For ADA compliance, B&B innkeepers with 1-25 guestrooms need to:

  • make all newly constructed buildings and facilities readily accessible
  • make all altered portions of existing buildings and facilities readily accessible
  • remove all barriers to accessibility in existing buildings and facilities when it is “readily achievable” to do so.

Alterations that impact your plans for accessibility include rehabilitation, remodeling, renovation, restoration, reconstruction, and changes or rearrangement in structural parts or elements or in the configuration of walls and partitions. Twenty percent of the total alteration budget must be spent on accessibility. For example, if you have budgeted $10,000 on combining two guestrooms into one, $2,000 needs to be spent on providing accessible accommodations.

Communication barriers include signs, phones and alarms. Signs (on and in elevators, bathrooms, and guestrooms) that lack Braille or are placed so that a seated person can’t read them are not ADA compliant; add Braille signage, and pay attention to placement. As an aside, it’s ironic that few blind people, only about 10%, actually read braille. Phones without text capability or that are mounted high on a wall don’t comply with the ADA. Alarms that provide only audio alerts can be made compliant by adding a visual alert.

Consider website accessibility and making computers you provide for guests ADA compliant as well. This isn’t covered in the disability law, but now that they are prevalent it’s prudent to make accommodation there too.

Providing auxiliary aids and services (instruments and devices that ensure effective communication) will make your B&B compliant. At least one of the following must be available for a B&B’s guestrooms:

  • text telephones (and you have to have one at the front desk so you can communicate with the hearing or speech impaired guest)
  • closed caption TV decoders
  • visual alarm smoke detectors
  • visual alert for a ringing phone
  • visual door knock alerting devices

The beauty of these devices is they can be moved to any guestroom to make it accessible, not just installed in the accessible room. By providing portable devices you can offer access to more guests.

It is important to remember that individuals with disabilities may not be charged for the costs providing accessibility. To encourage businesses to make “reasonable accommodations” and to lessen the financial impact of compliance, a 50% tax credit has been provided to eligible small businesses (gross sales of less than $1 million or less than 30 full-time employees) for qualified expenditures ($250-$10,500 for the alteration of existing buildings).

There are four ways that people with physical disabilities can be accommodated by mixing and matching alternative measures:

  1. architecture
  2. equipment
  3. changing the program/location
  4. personal assistance or service.

The issue of service animals is an interesting challenge because of allergy issues. People with disabilities are allowed service animals, regardless of your pet policy — dogs, pigs, monkeys, and horses are among the animals that can be trained and used as service animals. Period. That means you then have a room that’s been “contaminated” by an animal’s presence, future guests need to be advised of the allergy potential. A solution I’ve observed is to establish one room as both the accessible guestroom and the room that allows pets. It is acceptable to get a note from a doctor to verify the need for the service animal (and then apply common sense so you don’t end up with an untrained — in every sense of the word — animal passing for a service animal). Though I’ve been told it’s “illegal” to ask for proof of the animal’s service training, most disabled people carry their service animal’s records with them.

Here is my summary of the ADA as it applies to B&Bs:

  1. This is a Civil Rights law. It is not a Building Code (though some locals have built the law into their building codes)
  2. More restrictive local laws take precedence over the Federal law
  3. You must have a minimum of one auxiliary aids
  4. The disability types include mobility, sensory, and dexterity.

Here are some additional thoughts and points:

  1. Have an ADA question on your reservation form
  2. Religious and Private Club Facilities used SOLELY by their membership are exempt
  3. Length of stay and level of services affect this law
  4. If you offer transportation, it must be accessible to disabled people
  5. Good faith effort is the key to your defense if charged with discrimination
  6. All new construction must comply to the ADA laws
  7. Market your accessible rooms, to both the disabled community and to travelers wanting the style of luxury you create in your accessible guestrooms

Exemptions for B&Bs are that if your inn has fewer than six guestrooms (five and fewer) in one building (more than five rooms or rooms spread out over more than one building means you aren’t exempt), and you are owner occupied, you don’t have to comply with the ADA. And if you realize you are exempt, consider complying any way and cater to all people of various physical and mental abilities.

For ADA resources, search the internet for various sources. And check these resources as well:

  • ADCO Hearing Products, Inc.
  • Nationide Flashing Signal Systems
    301-589-6670 TTY
  • Handi-Ramp
    portable & vehicle ramps
  • Dept. of Justice
    800-514-0301 (voice)
    800-514-0383 (TDD)
  • HUD-Fair Housing, Information Clearing House
    800-927-9275 TDD