Sept. 23, 2014

Tobin: Celebrate the Weekend by Boosting Access

This post-Independence Day weekend, like every Fourth of July, Im looking forward to spending time with my family. Im looking forward to parades and VFW cookouts and seeing American flags lining the Main Street of every small town across the country. Im looking forward to watermelon and fireworks and finally taking a vacation.

Even with the tough economy, weve seen hotel rates and occupancy rise about 3 percent this year over last year and, with a recent drop in gas prices, were expecting that 5 percent more Americans will travel this year than last year.

I generally love to travel. I love getting out to new places, meeting new people, and seeing new parts of the country. But, as a wheelchair user, there is always a small bit of sadness in my heart when I go with my family to a hotel that hasnt yet adapted their facilities to fully address the needs of Americans with disabilities.

In a year with rebounding hotel profits, Americans with disabilities are still fighting hotel lobbying groups that are bound and determined to fight the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1990, the ADA brought some relief to Americans with disabilities looking for equal access to jobs and facilities. We fought hard for that legislation and have been fighting hard ever since to make sure that the legislation evolves with new technology and new needs of Americans with disabilities. What weve encountered along the way is a well-funded effort by the hotel industry to not only refuse compliance with the ADA, but to actually roll back the rights and protections that we fought so hard to secure.

For the 54 million people with disabilities living across this country, the Fourth of July holiday arrives each year with the same mix of joy and sadness that I experience. As Americans with disabilities make plans to travel with family and friends, we have to pay special attention to hotel facilities the width of entryways, the ease of navigation through lobbies and the presence of lifts to get in and out of the hotel pool. Though the ADA guaranteed equal access to all such facilities, big hotel industry lobbyists have decided that my access to hotel pools is too big a burden to bear.

Because of these lobbying groups, I often have to watch from the sideline as my family and friends frolic in hotel pools. Because of these lobbying groups, Im forced to see myself as a second-class citizen. Because of these lobbying groups, Im treated as a burden by hotel staff, rather than a paying guest. I laugh along with my family and friends on the outside, but the inside of me burns with embarrassment and sadness.

It doesnt have to be this way. The Department of Justice has tried over and over again to work with the hotel industry to bring it in line with ADA requirements, but these groups led by the American Hotel & Lodging Association continually stonewall this progress and insist that alignment with the ADA is overly burdensome to the very same hotels that are seeing record profits.

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