ADA Guidelines for Passenger Vessels

The U.S. Department of Transportation will in the near future be issuing new accessibility guidelines for the construction and alteration of passenger vessels covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that all such vessels are readily accessible to and useable by passengers with disabilities.  The guidelines are being written by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.  The guidelines would apply to passenger vessels, other than ferries and tenders, permitted to carry more than 150 passengers or more than 49 overnight passengers; ferries permitted to carry more than 99 passengers; and tenders permitted to carry more than 59 passengers.

The proposed guidelines address various features of vessel accessibility and include provisions for onboard routes, vertical access between decks, doorways, and coamings, toilet rooms, guest rooms, alarm systems, and other spaces and elements used by passengers.  The Board is not proposing requirements for smaller vessels due to assessed design challenges, space constraints, and other factors.  The guidelines would apply to newly built of altered vessels.

In laying the groundwork for this effort, the Board conducted research on the feasibility and impacts of integrating accessibility into the design of vessels.  This information includes case studies on vessels of various types and sizes, examination of design solutions to identify design and engineering constraints, and cost and impact analyses.  The Board previously released advanced drafts of the guidelines for comment which were based on recommendations from an advisory panel organized by the Board, the Passenger Access Advisory Committee.

Access Board Chairman Karen L. Braitmayer stated, “We know from experience that barriers to accessibility are often due to a lack of clear and detailed design guidance, and this rule will fill a long standing gap in making passenger vessels accessible to all.”

The Board is developing these guidelines under the ADA, which requires access to transportation and other services and to places of public accommodation.  Under the law, the Board is responsible for developing minimum guidelines covering access to transportation systems and to the built environment.  The vessel guidelines, once finalized, will join the Board’s ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Vehicles, which are currently being updated, and its ADA Accessibility Guidelibes for Buildings and Facilities.  The new guidelines will be used by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice in setting mandatory standards.

The rule can be accessed on the Board’s website or through the Federal government’s rulemaking portal at  Instructions for submitting comments, which are due by September 23, are included in the proposal.