American Cruise Lines to Improve Fleet Accessibility in ADA Settlement

American Cruise Lines
American Cruise Lines agreed to improve accessibility across it cruise ship fleet (file photo)

Published Jan 9, 2024 7:37 PM by The Maritime Executive


American Cruise Lines which operates a fleet of U.S.-flagged coastal and inland passenger cruise ships has reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that calls for improving accessibility on its ships and shore operations. The settlement will address accessibility on all 17 of the company’s vessels and implement accessibility standards and policies to provide greater access during cruises.

The movement that led to the Americans with Disability Act started in 1988 and culminated with the passage of the legislation in 1990. Under federal law, private entities that own or operate places of “public accommodation,” including cruise ships, are prohibited from discriminating based on disability.  The ADA authorizes the Justice Department to investigate complaints and undertake periodic reviews of compliance as well as when necessary commence a civil lawsuit which could include injunctive relief, monetary damages, and civil penalties.

Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, said the U.S. Department of Justice had received six complaints that American Cruise Lines was not accessible to or usable by individuals with disabilities who use wheelchairs. The allegations included that American Cruise Lines failed to provide cruise ships that were fully accessible to passengers in wheelchairs, failed to provide for safe embarkation and disembarkation procedures for passengers in wheelchairs, and failed to provide wheelchair-accessible ground transportation for passengers during shore excursions.

“Businesses are required, under the ADA, to appropriately serve a diverse customer base, ensuring that individuals are able to access and enjoy restaurants, service establishments, retail stores, and other places of public accommodation,” said Avery. “That includes cruise ships. We appreciate American Cruise Lines’ commitment to increasing access to its ships for individuals with physical disabilities and mobility challenges.”

American Cruise Lines worked cooperatively with the U.S. Attorney’s Office Avery noted to address the ADA. They noted that litigation had not been required to settle the issue and form a plan.

As a result of the settlement agreement, American Cruise Lines will submit a comprehensive remediation plan to improve accessibility for passengers with disabilities aboard all ships within 18 months.  The United States will have the opportunity to review and approve the plan before renovations begin.  

In addition, the agreement requires American Cruise Lines to adopt ADA-compliant policies, procedures, and training; assign an ADA compliance officer; and establish an accessible website.  The company had agreed to provide safe and accessible boarding and disembarking procedures and staff training, publicly available “accessibility request” and reservation procedures, and portable communication devices to alert deaf passengers when there is an emergency aboard ship.