The cruise companies serving the US market are to be complimented for improving ship accessibility and reaching out to the disability community well in advance of federal regulatory requirements. It was the importance of the senior market which initially fostered this positive trend toward barrier-free sailing, although the Department of Justice (DOJ) had also put the industry on notice of their non-discriminatory requirements as early as 1992 following implementation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations for other public accommodations.

Only on July 6, 2010, nearly 20 years after the ADA was signed into law, did the DOT issue a Final Rule under the ADA to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of disability aboard cruise ships and public-operated ferries. Most provisions of the rule became effective on January 3, 2011, with those related to cabin reservations postponed to January 3, 2012. Physical accessibility guidelines for new construction or alteration of vessels are still being finalized by the US Access Board.

Open Doors Organization and its staff have been actively involved in cruise line accessibility for many years. In 1998 Laurel Van Horn, ODO Research Director, led a media tour to Alaska for Holland America—a unique project that recruited only journalists with disabilities including blindness, deafness and paraplegia. From 1998-2000, Laurel served on the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee at the US Access Board, developing the guidelines which will form the basis of the DOT access standards. She has also conducted workshops on accessibility at several Florida Caribbean Cruise Association conferences, designed to raise disability awareness among tour operators providing shore excursions. Eric Lipp, ODO Executive Director, currently serves on one of three Access Advisory Boards at Royal Caribbean International.

Open Doors Organization cruise projects have included a series of ship inspections for Celebrity Cruises and creation of two staff training videos—from script and filming through final editing—for Norwegian Cruise Line.  In 2011 ODO also created two safety training videos for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The first focuses on safe assistance for guests with disabilities during the boarding and disembarking process.  It teaches proper techniques for handling manual wheelchairs and how to guide guests who are blind, as well as tips for effective, respectful communication. The second video focuses on how to safely assist guests who are non-ambulatory or have limited mobility when elevators are not in service.

ODO also serves as a behind the scenes accessibility consultant to other cruise companies as they prepare to meet the new service and physical accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ODO Cruise Line Offerings

  • Staff training
  • Video production
  • Marketing strategies
  • ADA compliance reviews
  • Review of architectural plans
  • Braille and large print menus
  • Web accessibility analysis

We appreciate the great strides in accessibility made by the cruise industry and look forward to working with you to further improve your facilities and service for the disability and mature communities and make a smooth transition to ADA regulation. Please call us at 773.388.8839 or email Eric Lipp or Laurel Van Horn to discuss your specific needs.

Cruise Resources – Enter Docket ID DOT-OST-2007-26829 for DOT Rule for Passenger Vessels and Public Comments

Final DOT Rule on Passenger Vessels (July 6, 2010)

Proposed Passenger Vessel Accessibility Guidelines (June 25, 2013)

US Access Board – Passenger Vessel Homepage

See also Hospitality Resources and Business Resources.