How to Handle an ADA Violation if Disabled

April 1, 2014

When living with a physical disability, “accessibility” is an important word. It is a word that transforms the word inability to ability. For example, making a bathroom accessible for a wheelchair user breaks down the barriers that give the person freedom and dignity.

The American Disability Act was created and passed about twenty-five years ago that opened doors for disabled people in so many areas like public establishments and transportation. Standards were set. I know personally how important things like curb ramps, handicap parking, ADA equipped bathrooms and bus lifts are—I would be confined to my home in my wheelchair if it wasn’t for these accommodations. The Act states:

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.

So many places of the U.S. have done a great job in conforming to these standards. But it’s not a perfect world of course, and many old cities or establishments cannot comply completely. I understand this, and don’t make a fuss when something realistically cannot comply. However, there comes a time when there is a clear violation of code that is inexcusable and action needs to be taken.

I called to book a hotel room yesterday, and when I requested a handicap room, I was asked whether I wanted the handicap room with grab bars in the bathroom. Asking to clarify what this meant, it was explained that standard handicap rooms can fit a wheelchair in the bathroom, but there were no grab bars. If I needed grab bars, I would have to reserve a handicap “accessible” suite, which was $10 more. These were the only rooms the facility had for a person needing grab bars in a bathroom!

Time for action. This is so wrong…

I called the ADA and they said that the hotel was in clear violation; if the manager of the hotel had any questions regarding this, they should call the ADA to inquire about their obligation. My choices? I could file a complaint in writing to the ADA for possible action from them toward the hotel, or file a suit against the hotel myself.

The agent informed me that every complaint they receive is evaluated. She assured me that even though the ADA receives so many complaints, I will get a response. She added that it is important to notify them in situations like this; but depending upon if, when and how the ADA will respond to the violator is another matter. If they receive multiple, valid complaints of a clear violation, they will proceed directly to the violator.

There were some large hotel chains that recently received major fines from the government for handicap accessible room violations.
I called the hotel back (The Extended Stay next to Boston Logan Int’l Airport) and told them about their violation of the room and my call to the ADA agency. The manager wasn’t there, and was told by the hotel agent I could just “take it or leave it” in a snippy tone, and to follow up with the manager later. I needed the room and the $10 extra was only a big deal in principle for me.

I plan to write a complaint to the ADA agency. However, I will defer writing to the ADA or calling back this hotel before I stay there. I don’t trust saying anything more to the hotel beforehand, as I may find my room was “given away” when I show up.
In addition, I will speak with the hotel manager at check-in or check-out to discuss this in a civil manner. Maybe I’ll get $10 back, but more importantly future guests should not have to pay $10 more for a handicap bathroom with bars. I’ll show her this blog post.

Here is the link to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidebook . The standards were updated in 2010-2012, so make sure that anything you read is the updated standard with that year on it.
The direct number is 1-800-514-0301. The agent I talked to was extremely patient and knowledgeable. This is the same number that could be given to the code violator if they want to inquiry about their ADA obligation(s).

To file a complaint, write up the issue with detail and email it to

While this particular ADA issue with the grab bars was something the ADA said they will follow up with, there are many other situations where they are the “establishers” but not the “enforcers.” For example, while state/city levels have to conform to the number/size/etc. of handicap parking places according to the ADA, it’s up to the local governments to enforce the law.

If you are in question as to what to do and who to follow up with about something, call an ADA agent at the above number. I asked about how photo ID cards could be issued/carried by legitimate handicap placard/plate holders to defray HP abusers, and was told this is something that I would have to pursue with a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. (Btw, the agent I spoke with indicated many people have called to inquire about this!)

Some things we have to swallow. For example, when I asked about the extremely high beds that are in handicap hotel rooms, the ADA agent explained that unfortunately, there are no codes regarding moveable furniture these hotel rooms. So if I happen to get a handicap room with a high bed, I have to nicely ask the hotel manager if they could remove the base. (This did this for me at several places.)

Personally, if a valid problem is encountered, I think it’s worthy to pursue an action and/or a solution. That’s how things get done. And there is strength in numbers. But I would add that what you say and how you say it is extremely important in achieving that solution. I have stayed in many hotel rooms that needed modification and hotel managers welcomed comments/suggestions and even gave generous rate reductions for any inconvenience I may have encountered. Sadly, hotels will book a handicap room to a “normal” person at the last minute just to fill the room. It has happened to me before, and others that I know in my position. When it happened to me, I nicely asked to not be charged for a room that night, and my request was granted.