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xx Las Vegas and the Disabled
« Thread started on: Feb 6th, 2007, 08:20am »

AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT: Granting Access to All

Las Vegas above average when it comes to meeting needs of disabled clientele

By SONYA PADGETT
REVIEW-JOURNAL



Ricardo Rodriguez selects a drink at Mandalay Bay's gift shop April 8. "I think, as a wheelchair user, it's hard to get better overall accessibility than on the Strip," the


Ricardo Rodrigez works on his computer in his room at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay in April. The 36-year-old lawyer has visited Las Vegas an average of four to six times a year for the past 10 years.
Photo by John Locher.



Ricardo Rodriguez makes his way through the lobby of Mandalay Bay during his April stay.
Photo by John Locher.



A ceiling track lift device hangs over the bed in one of the specially equipped rooms for the disabled at The Mirage.
Photo by John Gurzinski.



A roll-in shower is in a handicap accessible room at the Imperial Palace. Resorts built such amenities after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Photo by Isaac Brekken.

For years, when Californian Ricardo Rodriguez arrived at McCarran International Airport, he bypassed the taxi line and hired a private car to drive him to his Strip hotel.

The ride was $40 one-way and though he could afford it, Rodriguez didn't do it for luxury's sake. It was the only way to ensure he could get transportation in a reasonable period of time.
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On the occasions when he tried taking a cab, Rodriguez, confined to a power wheelchair for much of his adult life, often waited 30 minutes or more for a Strip-bound taxi that could accommodate his chair. That was a lot of waiting for a man who has visited Las Vegas an average of four to six times a year for the past 10 years. Most able-bodied visitors wait a few minutes for a cab at the most, he noticed.

Rarely would he use a cab to get back to the airport, either. The service was just too unreliable to risk missing his plane, he said.

But during the past five years, the situation changed. Now, the 36-year-old lawyer and father of two waits about 15 minutes for a wheelchair accessible taxi at the airport. He feels so certain of their availability that he uses one for his return trip, too.

That improvement, something that may not have occurred to those who don't have to traverse a big city from the seat of a wheelchair, is indicative of just how accessible Las Vegas and the Strip are to those who do, Rodriguez said.

"I think, as a wheelchair user, it's hard to get better overall accessibility than on the Strip," Rodriguez said. "I've traveled to a lot of different places and I think it's tough to find a place that is as readily accessible as Vegas."

Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 specifies that businesses provide access to the disabled by widening doors, installing ramps, repositioning telephones and making other accommodations. Any business that provides services to the public, including casinos, falls under the law, said Bill Werner, an assistant professor who teaches hotel law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Overall, Strip resorts are accessible, said Paul Martin, director of Nevadans for Equal Access.

"The casinos have done a pretty good job of making their places more user-friendly," said Martin, whose group serves as an ADA watchdog over local businesses. "They've provided wider aisles, ramps going to different areas; they've lowered some counters, made restrooms more user-friendly."

Since the law's inception, complaints have been made against a handful of resorts. Currently, the Department of Justice is investigating possible accessibility violations at Mandalay Bay.

"We do have an active ADA investigation of Mandalay Bay," said Eric Holland, spokesman for the Justice Department. "Because it's ongoing I cannot comment any further."

In 1994 and 1995, complaints about lack of access were filed with the Justice Department against the MGM Grand; a settlement was reached in 1999.

The Justice Department and New York-New York reached an agreement in December 2001 following a compliance review that began before the hotel was built and took more than two years to resolve.

"The review was a cooperative effort resulting in a hotel and casino that has accessible gaming tables and penthouse suites," the Justice Department reported in a news release announcing the agreement.

That agreement was reached based on a precedent-setting case decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Long v. Coast Resorts Inc.

In that case, a wheelchair-bound tourist and the Disabled Rights Action Committee, a Utah-based nonprofit organization, sued The Orleans over accessibility issues, including bathroom doors that were too narrow. A confidential settlement was reached after the court's ruling, said the plaintiff's attorney, Rick Armknecht.

Martin's group has twice filed complaints about The Venetian and a bridge at the property that he said is not accessible to people in wheelchairs. The Justice Department is reviewing the matter, he said.

The Imperial Palace reached a settlement with the Justice Department earlier this year regarding a side stairway, said general manager Ed Crispell.

Though it's scheduled to close, management must fix the problem, he added.

Usually, monetary awards are not involved in settlements, unless a business doesn't fix the violation within a specified time frame, Werner said. Then the government assesses fines. The law also states that the plaintiff's legal fees be paid by the defendant.

Despite these complaints, the Strip provides better access and service than any other travel destination in the country, said Candy Harrington, editor of Emerging Horizons, a magazine about accessible travel for the wheelchair user.

"I think it's excellent, actually," Harrington said of her impressions of the Strip's access. "As far as our readers go, it's a very popular destination."

Some hotels, such as The Mirage and Wynn Las Vegas, go beyond what the law requires, she noted. Both have ceiling track lifts in some handicap-accessible rooms, which aren't required by the Americans With Disabilities Act but are needed by some people in wheelchairs.

"I can't think of another hotel in the U.S. outside of Las Vegas that offers that," she added.

Resorts built after the law's passage feature similar amenities and services, including Braille signage for the blind; roll-in showers for wheelchair users; shake-awake alarm clocks that use motion instead of sound for the hearing impaired, in-room lights that alert hearing-impaired guests when someone knocks at their door and telecommunication devices, or TDD, for the deaf. Casinos also have tables that can accommodate wheelchairs, and sign language interpreters can be requested to interpret shows and concerts, said Tim Jones, MGM Grand's director of safety and ADA coordinator.

By law, hotels must provide a certain number of rooms that are accessible to the disabled, somewhere between 1 percent and 5 percent, Jones said. The MGM Grand receives about five requests a day for a handicap-accessible room, and it usually has more than 100 available.

Not every room provides every amenity. Some have roll-in showers while others have grab bars affixed to bathtubs.

A roll-in shower is the one thing Rodriguez looks for when he travels. Over the years, he has stayed in many places, including the Stratosphere, Wynn, Treasure Island, The Mirage, The Venetian, Harrah's Las Vegas, Bellagio, Bally's, Paris Las Vegas, Aladdin, Monte Carlo, MGM Grand, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, The Hotel at Mandalay Bay and Four Seasons.

Currently, his favorite place is Wynn for the casino and rooms with roll-in showers, king-sized beds and Strip views.

"The one thing I have found the most annoying is that a lot of the hotels have put their accessible rooms with the worst views. You won't find an accessible room that faces the Strip" in most hotels, said Rodriguez, who has in the past toured hotel rooms to see if he would want to stay on future visits.

Restaurants typically are the trickiest area when it comes to access, Harrington said. Because tables and chairs are movable, it's easy for a path of access to become blocked.

Still, Rodriguez said that Strip restaurants are some of the more accessible he has encountered in his travels.

Servers are trained to address the needs of disabled guests, Jones said. Sight-impaired guests can have menus read to them.

Attorney Armknecht, who deals mainly with disability-related cases, agrees that Las Vegas does a good job of accommodating all visitors, disabled or not. But it's not enough, in his estimation.

"Vegas overall is more accessible than many cities in the U.S. because it's so new. But because it's so new it should meet an even higher level of accessibility," he said.

Armknecht credits the 9th Circuit Court decision in Long v. Coast Resorts Inc. with setting a standard for other resorts to follow.

"With the Coast settlement, a lot of bigger resorts started talking seriously with the Justice Department," Armknecht said. "They decided they were no longer going to lock horns with the Department of Justice about these regulatory requirements. The case was precedent-setting and the (decision) was a bright ray of sunshine for the disabled-rights enforcement community."

Resorts built before the Americans With Disabilities Act became law, such as most downtown properties, weren't required to be reconstructed, UNLV's Werner said. But they are under a legal requirement to make their properties accessible to the disabled.

For instance, adding an elevator to an existing building is never required, he said, but installing grab bars next to toilets or widening doors are considered reasonable requests.

Binion's Horseshoe reached a settlement with Nevadans for Equal Access in 2001 to improve restr
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xx Re: Las Vegas and the Disabled
« Reply #1 on: Feb 6th, 2007, 08:21am »

Binion's Horseshoe reached a settlement with Nevadans for Equal Access in 2001 to improve restrooms and make other accommodations.

The cost of making such changes to an existing structure can be inexpensive, Werner said, but not always.

In the Long v. Coast Resorts case, representatives of The Orleans argued that the cost of fixing the bathrooms, estimated at $800,000, was too much of a financial burden to undertake. That argument failed, Armknecht said, because the resort was built after the law went into effect.

"All of these economic interests are important when you're talking about structures that were built before the law," Armknecht explained. "But when you're talking about new construction, it's a very bright line. (The Orleans) couldn't argue against that."

Anyone who believes a business is in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act can file a complaint with the Department of Justice, said Paul Martin, director of Nevadans for Equal Access.

But just because a complaint is filed doesn't mean action will be taken. Not all complaints are found to be a violation of the act, Martin noted.

For instance, in 1996, a woman complained to her congressman that two Las Vegas hotels required a blank credit card imprint to secure an assistive listening device. The Justice Department found that to be a reasonable request.

Often, people will file a complaint without understanding the scope of the law. They are new to traveling and expect a hotel to have the same level of accommodations they have in their own homes, said magazine editor Harrington.

The best thing to do if you think a business is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act is to contact a nonprofit organization that advocates for the disabled, such as Nevadans for Equal Access, Martin said. Or, contact the Justice Department's ADA hot line at (800) 514-0301.
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