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HomeNewsArchivesUndercurrents: V.I. Working to Attract Visitors with Disabilities

Undercurrents: V.I. Working to Attract Visitors with Disabilities

A regular Source feature, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events as they develop beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

Efforts to enhance accessibility in the territory aren’t limited to addressing the needs of residents with disabilities. The U.S. Justice Department, which oversees compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, is also looking at facilities and services geared to tourists.

The V.I. office is checking to see if hotels throughout the territory are ADA compliant, according to Joycelyn Hewlett, assistant U.S. attorney. Hewlett said the office is also working with the Taxi Commission to educate taxi drivers about their responsibilities to disabled passengers.

Lisa Hamilton, executive director of the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association, said this week that she is unaware of a new initiative. A survey that the association conducted several years ago showed all major properties were in compliance at that time, she said, with the exception of some of the older hotels that were built before the law was passed and were “grandfathered in” to continue operating as they had been.

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However, the rules have changed a little. Originally concerned with guest rooms and elevators and access to hotel restaurants, the ADA regulations now mandate that swimming pools also be accessible to people who use wheelchairs.

In September 2010, the Justice Department published regulations requiring pool lifts, sloped entries or other access for wheelchair-bound individuals. The new rules went into effect for new pools a year ago. Existing pools were to be modified by Jan. 31, 2013.

The rationale was simply stated in a Justice press release: “Many people with disabilities could benefit from the social, recreational and exercise benefits of swimming.”
In the same release, the department stresses that the directive is to remove barriers to access to already existing pools “to the extent that it is readily achievable.” It goes on to define that phrase: “Readily achievable means that it is easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.”

“This is a flexible, case-by-case analysis, with the goal of ensuring that ADA requirements are not unduly burdensome, including to small businesses,” the release says.

Archie Jennings, the managing attorney for the Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands, a nonprofit advocacy group, concurred with that approach.

“We don’t want to put anybody out of business,” he said. At the same time, the requirement for pool access “is not something new,” Jennings said. “It wasn’t a surprise.”

People were given a grace period to come into compliance, he said.

Jennings said he thinks some hotels in the territory have already made modifications to existing pools.
“It’s to the benefit of the tourism industry to make (the territory) as accessible as possible,” he said. “It’s an aging population” and more and more people with limited mobility are traveling.

The ADA was passed in 1990 and became effective in 1992. The section that applies to hotels stipulates that a hotel must have a certain number of rooms available that are geared to people with disabilities. Such rooms must be outfitted with things like lowered sinks and dressing areas, wide doorways that can accommodate standard wheelchairs, grab bars in the bathrooms, shower seats and visual alarms for people with hearing impairments.

A small hotel, with fewer than 25 rooms total, must have at least one such room; a 500-room hotel must have a minimum of nine and at least four of those must have a roll-in shower. The law spells out the numbers for hotels of various sizes in between.

Jennings said hotels in the territory are generally doing well as far as serving people who are disabled. The majority of complaints he has seen involve reservations systems. A guest may book a room for a disabled person but, on arrival, find the room is no longer available. One particularly memorable instance involved a wheelchair-bound individual who was to be a speaker at a disabilities conference at a local hotel, but found his room had been assigned to someone else.

Jennings is also working with the Justice Department and with the V.I. Taxi Commission to bring taxi operators into compliance with the ADA.

“They have to be accessible like any other thing for (use by) the public,” he said. That includes having a place to store a person’s wheelchair during a ride and accommodating disability animals.

Judy Wheatley, executive director of the Taxi Commission, recently said she hopes to begin special training sessions in June for drivers of taxi cabs and safari buses. Jennings said he is working with Wheatley on the program.

“We want to make the Virgin Islands a livable community” for residents and visitors, Jennings said.

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A regular Source feature, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events as they develop beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community. Efforts to enhance accessibility in the territory aren’t limited to addressing the needs of residents with disabilities. The U.S. Justice Department, which oversees compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, is also looking at facilities and services geared to tourists. The V.I. office is checking to see if hotels throughout the territory are ADA compliant, according to Joycelyn Hewlett, assistant U.S. attorney. Hewlett said the office is also working with the Taxi Commission to educate taxi drivers about their responsibilities to disabled passengers. Lisa Hamilton, executive director of the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association, said this week that she is unaware of a new initiative. A survey that the association conducted several years ago showed all major properties were in compliance at that time, she said, with the exception of some of the older hotels that were built before the law was passed and were “grandfathered in” to continue operating as they had been. However, the rules have changed a little. Originally concerned with guest rooms and elevators and access to hotel restaurants, the ADA regulations now mandate that swimming pools also be accessible to people who use wheelchairs. In September 2010, the Justice Department published regulations requiring pool lifts, sloped entries or other access for wheelchair-bound individuals. The new rules went into effect for new pools a year ago. Existing pools were to be modified by Jan. 31, 2013. The rationale was simply stated in a Justice press release: “Many people with disabilities could benefit from the social, recreational and exercise benefits of swimming.” In the same release, the department stresses that the directive is to remove barriers to access to already existing pools “to the extent that it is readily achievable.” It goes on to define that phrase: “Readily achievable means that it is easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.” “This is a flexible, case-by-case analysis, with the goal of ensuring that ADA requirements are not unduly burdensome, including to small businesses,” the release says. Archie Jennings, the managing attorney for the Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands, a nonprofit advocacy group, concurred with that approach. “We don’t want to put anybody out of business,” he said. At the same time, the requirement for pool access “is not something new,” Jennings said. “It wasn’t a surprise.” People were given a grace period to come into compliance, he said. Jennings said he thinks some hotels in the territory have already made modifications to existing pools. “It’s to the benefit of the tourism industry to make (the territory) as accessible as possible,” he said. “It’s an aging population” and more and more people with limited mobility are traveling. The ADA was passed in 1990 and became effective in 1992. The section that applies to hotels stipulates that a hotel must have a certain number of rooms available that are geared to people with disabilities. Such rooms must be outfitted with things like lowered sinks and dressing areas, wide doorways that can accommodate standard wheelchairs, grab bars in the bathrooms, shower seats and visual alarms for people with hearing impairments. A small hotel, with fewer than 25 rooms total, must have at least one such room; a 500-room hotel must have a minimum of nine and at least four of those must have a roll-in shower. The law spells out the numbers for hotels of various sizes in between. Jennings said hotels in the territory are generally doing well as far as serving people who are disabled. The majority of complaints he has seen involve reservations systems. A guest may book a room for a disabled person but, on arrival, find the room is no longer available. One particularly memorable instance involved a wheelchair-bound individual who was to be a speaker at a disabilities conference at a local hotel, but found his room had been assigned to someone else. Jennings is also working with the Justice Department and with the V.I. Taxi Commission to bring taxi operators into compliance with the ADA. “They have to be accessible like any other thing for (use by) the public,” he said. That includes having a place to store a person’s wheelchair during a ride and accommodating disability animals. Judy Wheatley, executive director of the Taxi Commission, recently said she hopes to begin special training sessions in June for drivers of taxi cabs and safari buses. Jennings said he is working with Wheatley on the program. “We want to make the Virgin Islands a livable community” for residents and visitors, Jennings said.