WC Duke Associates, Inc.

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Is Your Hotel a Sitting Duck for Litigation?

By Cheryl T. Duke

You may be familiar with a carnival shooting gallery with artificial ducks that move from side to side while participants try their luck at shooting them for inexpensive prizes. If the duck slows down it becomes very easy to shoot it. When it comes to the following ADA issues, your hotel may be a target:

  • ADA audit

  • Devices for guests with hearing loss

  • Tub seats

  • Bed frames in the wheelchair-accessible room

  • Customer service training

The "prize" for not having the proper access, equipment and procedures is litigation.

ADA Audit

The most overlooked requirement is that your facility has an ADA audit of its current accessibility level. This written plan needs to be readily available at any time when someone asks for it. If it isn't, you are a "dead duck" because you are immediately in violation of the ADA, which more than likely leads to closer scrutiny of your property for noncompliance. Be sure your staff knows where your ADA audit is located so they present it upon request.

This audit is a survey of existing accessibility barriers which you have identified. Decide the solutions will best eliminate barriers at a reasonable cost and are "readily achievable." Then prioritize which barriers need to be removed. Whenever possible, complete your work in compliance with the priorities in the survey. It is critical to demonstrate a "good faith" effort in meeting the goals of accessibility. This includes documentation of everything you have done and how you plan to address future requirements.

More information on doing an ADA audit....

Devices for Guests with Hearing Loss

Hopefully you have these devices in a nice little suitcase tucked away safely somewhere on your property. The problem may be that it is so carefully put away that your staff does not know where these devices are or how they work. If this is the case (or if you don't have the devices), you are 13 years out of compliance for not having the TTY's, phone flashers, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, vibrating alarm clocks, visual smoke alarms, and door knock lights. Now you are not only just a dead duck, but ready to be stuffed and mounted by a taxidermist disguised as a lawyer.

Tub Seats

Most hotel executives are risk management fanatics. However, when it comes to the bath in the wheelchair-accessible room, the most overlooked safety hazard is the tub seat in the roll-in shower or the bathtub with handrails.

Most hotel executives are risk management fanatics. However, when it comes to the bath in the wheelchair-accessible room, the most overlooked safety hazard is the tub seat in the roll-in shower or the bathtub with handrails.

tub seat


These rickety seats pose a major liability because they don't meet ADA standards. They are unsafe under any conditions. If you are using these in your hotel, you have a target on your back with instructions saying "Shoot me." GET RID OF THEM! They are unreliable not matter what the level of guest ability.


The problem seems to be a lack of awareness on what to ask for. You need to have a tub transfer bench. The illustration below shows how sturdy this device is. Your guests with mobility impairments don't want and can't use those unsafe tub seats.

tub bench


Your guests with mobility disabilities need this type of tub transfer bench for stability of using the bath tub. Without it, they risk becoming a "wounded duck."

Bed Frames in the Accessible Room

It may never have occurred to you that the type of bed frame in the wheelchair-accessible room is a safety hazard. For guests using wheelchairs, who may also use a mechanical lift to get in and out of their chair, a bed with an open frame is a requirement. Beds on pedestal or box frames are closed, making it impossible for this lift to slide perpendicular under the bed. The following photo shows the precarious parallel position that occurs for the person operating the lift for the guest.

photo of man balancing lift with foot while trying to get person off the bed



The operator has to balance the lift with his or her foot. If the lift slips, then the guest will be injured, plus perhaps the lift operator, and ADA noncompliance, along with personal injury litigation will result.





So check out the bed frames in your property's wheelchair-accessible room. If they are not on open frames, then change them immediately. Inform your staff so they can provide accurate information when guests ask about the bed frames. It sounds like an odd ball question, but for guests using lifts, their security is a concern.

Customer Service Training

Now if you can't present your ADA audit upon request, cannot locate your devices for guests with hearing loss, have risk management issues in your accessible guest rooms, let's hope your situation isn't made worse by a staff that is clueless about successfully interacting with guests having disabilities. Good service and common sense go a long way in overcoming situations centered on accessibility. But common sense can fly away when your personnel are dealing with a guest that invades their comfort zone, especially when this guest is irate about access issues.

Awareness and sensitivity training doesn't give your staff the tools and understanding to deal with these guests' special and unique requirements. Your staff needs practical skills in disability etiquette and knowledge about disability issues so they know why these guests are concerned and possibly upset. Accessibility isn't a preference for these guests, but a necessity. A lack of understanding about this basic underlying principle of the disability lifestyle will create difficulties that can quickly escalate into major problems. Poor customer service may be the final straw that causes your property to become the dead duck in the shooting gallery.

Yes, you have the potential to be a target. There are people taking pot shots at you. Some may be legitimate if you don't have your ADA audit and devices for guests with hearing loss, and if you haven't addressed safety concerns or trained your staff. By taking care of these five issues, you can lower your profile as a risk for litigation and not become a prize or trophy for some enterprising attorney.