Disabilities Community Rallies Against Business Efforts to Block Equal Access

By Jaimie Woo, a Summer 2012 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On June 14, at least 100 people with disabilities and their allies from across the country staged a rally in front of the Washington, D.C., office of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) to demand that the trade group end its lobbying to block equal access to hotel swimming pools.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark civil rights law for people with disabilities, is more than 20 years old, the majority of public swimming pools in the United States remain inaccessible for wheelchair users. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that by March 15, 2012, permanently installed pool lifts or sloped entries would be required in pools to accommodate people with disabilities.

In response, the AH&LA launched a campaign to prevent the DOJ from enforcing the fixed-lift requirement, arguing that less expensive portable lifts should be allowed instead. While DOJ has not accepted that argument, it has twice postponed the compliance date, which is now set for January 31, 2013.

The disabilities community – which feels it has waited long enough – opposed the delay, which puts another summer swimming season out of reach for wheelchair users.

“Like many businesses in America, these hotel groups claim to support access and equality for Americans with Disabilities while actively fighting against it,” Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), wrote on his blog. “If they really wanted to provide us equal amenities for the equal money we pay to stay in their hotels, they would call off their attack dogs in Congress.”

AAPD, the National Council on Independent Living, ADAPT, and the National Disability Rights Network organized the rally in front of the AH&LA office, where protesters chanted “ADA is here to stay” and “access is a civil right.”

Vicki Harris of Oklahoma said that she has never been able to enter a swimming pool or hot tub due to her wheelchair and feels that this discriminatory practice infringes on her civil rights. Ann Cody, a native of Washington, D.C., also spoke at the rally. She explained that her work in the non-profit disability sports community, where she helps children with disabilities and veterans learn how to swim, is stifled by current policies.

“We need the hotel industry and the private sector to make good on the ADA,” Cody said.

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