ADA Creep

By June 6, 2005General

No sooner was the ink dry on the entry below that the US Supreme Court today decided a key Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) case. In Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines, according to, Douglas Spector and a group of disabled people who traveled on Norwegian Cruise Line ships sued the company in federal district court, alleging that two of its ships did not conform with Title III of the ADA.

The company argued that the ADA did not apply to the two ships because, though the ships sailed out of Texas, they sailed under the Bahamian flag. The district court dismissed the group’s claims and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled foreign-flagged cruise ships are not subject to Title III of the ADA.

Spector, who was confined to a motorized scooter noted among other problems that the steps in front of entrances that were used to seal water out of the ship’s interior also served as a barrier to his scooter. There were apparently a few rooms that were disabled-friendly, but they were substantially more expensive. Also at issue, obviously, was the reach of US jurisdiction to a ship sailing under a foreign flag.

Today’s 6-3 decision was a bit of a hodgepodge, in that there was a majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy and joined by 4 others, a concurring in part, dissenting in part opinion written by Justice Thomas, and a dissent written by Justice Scalia and joined by two others. It’s seen as a huge victory for disability rights advocates because the court expanded the scope of the ADA, finding that foreign cruise lines that dock at US ports must provide ADA-compliant access. Up to now, this Supreme Court had been seen as largely limiting the scope of the ADA to its original intent and purpose, so this decision does come as a bit of a surprise to Supreme Court/ADA watchers.

In any event, since we were just on the topic (see below), we thought we’d note this in that it’s a timely reminder that we are one Supreme Court decision away from ADA expansion. We think the cockamamie plans that DOJ has laid out below don’t reach the level of Mr. Spector’s complaint, but as you know, this is an imprecise science, and one that demands eternal vigilance.

We support the spirit of the ADA and comply with the letter of the ADA. We just don’t want to see it grow into areas in which it was never intended and in a way that does nothing to advance the participation of the disabled in the workplace.

Incidentally, the participation rate of the disabled in the workplace has declined every year since the ADA was passed. We think it’s time to be about the re-focusing on the purposes of this law, to the benefit of both manufacturers and the disabled.