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Cruise Accessibility Case Heard By Supreme Court

March 1, 2005

Cruise Accessibility Case Heard By Supreme Court
March 1, 2005 – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Spector vs. Norwegian Cruise Line case on Monday. The case argues that the1990 Americans With Disabilities Act should apply to cruise ships that stop in U.S. ports even if the ships sail under a foreign flag. Douglas Spector and two other travelers who used wheelchairs or electric scooters brought the case against the Norwegian Sea and Norwegian Star after being charged extra for cabins accessible to the disabled and finding that some services in public areas, including bathrooms, were not accessible.

Disability rights advocates argue that the ADA was intended to help people pursue full lives, while the cruise industry says it would be too complicated and costly to abide by the laws of individual port countries.

Lawyers representing Norwegian Cruise Line said Congress did not cover foreign ships in the landmark civil rights law for the disabled and that if the court were to interpret the ADA’s requirements as extending to such ships, it would force cruise lines to operate under a complicated patchwork of regulations.

Some justices have expressed concern that if the ADA applied to cruise ships, it also would cover other types of vessels that stop in U.S. ports, while others worry that if the ADA does not apply to cruise ships, U.S. civil rights laws also would not extend to such vessels. The ADA requires that places of "public accommodation" and "public transportation" be accessible to the disabled.

According to USA Today, an estimated 10 million people a year take cruises, and one "friend of the court" brief said the number of disabled people in that group could be significant. A brief by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and nine other groups said cruises are ideal for disabled people because they offer activities within small spaces.

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