Online Reservation System Requirements for ADA Compliance
(The deadline for the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance is March 15, 2012)
written* by Bill Mitchell, Co-Founder, RezStream, Denver, Colorado
The Internet has changed how we all interact with online information and technology. The web is an especially important resource for people with disabilities. But many hospitality businesses are still not aware that their current websites must be ADA compliant. Furthermore, new regulations that go into effect on March 15, 2012 require all hotel and hospitality online reservation processes and systems be ADA compliant.
In recent years, a number of hotels and online reservation companies (Hilton, Ramada Inns, Hotels.com, Priceline.com and Expedia.com) have faced lawsuits initiated from those with disabilities. The outcome from these lawsuits ensured that the online reservation experience for those with disabilities be equivalent to the online reservation experience for people who do not have disabilities.
Numerous complaints and lawsuits brought on by those with disabilities gave proof that many current online reservation systems lack proper identification and information about ADA accessible rooms. Effective March 12, 2012, virtually all hospitality businesses must fulfill new requirements for ADA compliance within their online reservation processes and systems.
What this also means is that individuals with disabilities must be given the same access to make reservations, during the same hours, and in a similar manner, as individuals who do not have disabilities. The new ADA rules specify that if you return your availability by room types (king, queen, etc.) your accessible rooms must be clearly shown online, and only available to those with disabilities, until all other room types are reserved. Only after all other room types are booked, can a hotel open up the booking process for accessible rooms, to non-disabled website visitors. If you return your availability by individual units, you do not have to hold back ADA rooms. However, all other ADA guidelines do apply.
Effective March 15, 2012, lodging businesses need to comply with new ADA requirements regarding all reservation systems. Furthermore, these new rules require hospitality businesses to identify and describe features of all accessible guest rooms online, and to ensure that a reserved ADA accessible guest room is also removed from all reservations systems, so that it is not inadvertently released to someone other than the person who reserved the accessible room. The final rule limits the obligations of third-party reservation systems such as Expedia and Travelocity. However, hotels must provide accurate inventory to all online booking channels and communicate to third party channels when accessible rooms are no longer available.
It should be noted that hotels that employ third-party reservations services must make reasonable efforts to make ADA accessible rooms available through these services and must provide these third-party services with information concerning the accessible features of the hotel and the accessible rooms. If the hotel makes information available to the third party provider, but the third party provider fails to provide that information on their website, then the hotel or place of lodging will not be held responsible.
All hospitality businesses should reevaluate their accessible rooms’ policies now, and ensure that their online reservation system is compliant, by the March 5, 2012 deadline. Undoubtedly, the developers of online reservation systems will also have to make changes to their services to comply with the new ADA regulations.
The bottom line is that information on your hotel website is held to a higher standard than information in third party booking websites such as Expedia. To that end, it is mandatory to describe all details of your rooms in your online reservation system and on your website. Information should include: room type, size and number of beds, type of bathing area (roll-in shower, etc.), and communications features such as alarms and other visual notification devices. Anything that might be of importance to someone with a disability should be included in your website information.
For older hotels with limited accessibility features, information on the website and online reservation system about the hotel should include, at a minimum, information about accessible entrances to the hotel, the path of travel for guest check-in and other essential services, and the accessible route to the accessible room or rooms. In addition to the room information described above, older hotels should provide information about important features that do not comply with the 1991 ADA standards. For example, if the door to the "accessible" room or bathroom is narrower than required, this information should be included (e.g. door to guest room measures 30 inches clear). This width may not meet current standards, but may be adequate for some wheelchair users who use narrower chairs.
Your website is also required to be ADA compliant. Now is the time to take care of both requirements (website and online reservation system) to avoid potential costly litigation.
Conclusion: Virtually all hospitality businesses are impacted by these new ADA rule changes. New ADA compliance rules go into effect on March 15, 2012. Make sure your business is not caught off guard by not complying with these new regulations. Contact your current online reservation provider and see what features they offer to meet ADA compliance. Online reservation systems must also be accessible (user-friendly) for people with disabilities. If your current online reservation system is not compliant, it may be necessary to find another booking engine that conforms to ADA guidelines. Review your website content (room descriptions), website polices, online reservation system information, and terms and conditions, to ensure that people with disabilities are fully able to participate and get the information they need to complete their online booking process.
*Note: Much of the information compiled in this article was included in the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s “Creating an Accessible Web Presence for the Lodging Industry” primer. I would also like to thank the California Hotel and Lodging Association’s (CHLA) and CABBI legal counsel, Jim Abrams, for his invaluable assistance on this topic.
About the Speaker: Bill Mitchell is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of RezStream, a company dedicated to hospitality solutions, located in Denver, Colorado. Bill has over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry with extensive knowledge in consulting, sales, support, website design and Internet marketing.RezStream sells reservation software (RezStream Professional PMS), online reservation booking engine services (RezStream Rez2u Booking Engine), Global Distribution System services, custom website designs, and Internet marketing services.
RezStream also offers a full line of ADA compliance consulting services, ADA compliant website design services, and an ADA reservation services consulting. Call 866-360-8210 for more information.