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Americans with Disabilities Act Technical Assistance Letters


October 19, 1999

The Honorable Calvin Dooley

Member, U.S. House of Representatives

224 W. Lacey Boulevard

Hanford, California 93230

Dear Congressman Dooley:

This is in response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx, who accompanied her parents last summer on an Alaskan cruise aboard Holland American's Nieuw Amsterdam. The ship was in large part not accessible to her father who uses a wheelchair. xxxx xxxxxxxx has asked whether cruise ships that dock in American ports must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

The Department has long taken the position that such ships must be ADA compliant. The issue was discussed in the preamble to Section 36.104 of our title III regulation (28 C.F.R. Part 36, Appendix B at 585) and in sections III-5.3000 and 1-2000(D) of our Title III Technical Assistance Manual (1994 Supp.). The Department recently reiterated that position in an amicus curiae brief in Tammy Stevens v. Premier Cruises, Inc., No. 98-5913 (11th Cir., filed March 24, 1999), a case that will be argued this fall. Two copies of our brief are enclosed should you care to share one with xxxx xxxxxxxx.

As the brief points out, cruise ships are covered by title III of the ADA because they typically contain guest cabins, eating and drinking establishments, places of exhibition and entertainment, and exercise and recreation facilities and thus function as one or more of the types of places of public accommodations enumerated in the statute. 42 U.S.C. 12181(7).

They are also covered by Section 12184(a) of the ADA, which prohibits disability-based discrimination "in public transportation services provided by a private entity that is primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and whose operations affect commerce." The Department of Transportation, which is authorized to implement Section 12184, has determined that cruise ships are covered by that provision. 56 Fed. Reg. 45,584, 45,600 (1991).

Cruise ships must therefore comply with the full range of title III requirements, which include nondiscriminatory eligibility criteria; reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures; provision of auxiliary aids; and readily achievable removal of barriers in existing facilities. A ship is not required to comply with a specific accessibility standard for new construction or alterations, however, because no Federal standard for the construction of accessible ships has yet been issued. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board is currently developing such guidelines. 63 Fed. Reg. 15,175 (1998).

Our Stevens brief also addresses the issue of whether the ADA applies to foreign-flag cruise ships, like the one boarded by xxxx xxxxxxxx and her family, when they are docked in the ports or other internal waters of the United States (brief at pages 15-27). As you can see, the Department takes the position that they are covered and that boarding such a ship which has not removed barriers to accessibility subjects the individual with a disability to an act of discrimination that occurs in the United States.

I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to your constituent. If xxxx xxxxxxxx would like to file a title III ADA complaint with the Department, she can do so by writing to the Disability Rights Section, P. O. Box 66738, Washington, D.C. 20035-6738. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.


Bill Lann Lee

Acting Assistant

Attorney General

Civil Rights Division


Updated August 6, 2015