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October 26, 2010

DoJ reaches agreement with NCL on ADA violations

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking federal court approval of a consent decree with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) to resolve a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on behalf of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and individuals who use wheelchairs, who took NCL cruises of the Hawaiian Islands.

Under the proposed consent decree, NCL will ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing get the auxiliary aids and services they need, such as a sign language interpreter or a written transcript of the emergency drill, to fully participate in the activities on the ship and in the shore excursions. NCL will also ensure that individuals who use wheelchairs get accessible bus transportation between the airport, cruise ship and hotels, and on shore excursions. In addition, NCL will pay $100,000 in damages to nine individuals with disabilities and will also pay $40,000 in civil penalties to the United States.

"People with disabilities who need sign language interpreters or accessible ground transportation should be able to go on vacation and enjoy the activities of a cruise like everyone else," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. "It is essential that NCL and the cruise industry comply with the ADA's requirements for auxiliary aids and services and accessible transportation."

"The ADA applies to cruise ships, just as it does to hotels and other entities that offer services to the public," said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. "Discrimination against people with disabilities, on land or at sea, will not be tolerated."

After an extensive investigation, the Justice Department determined that five deaf individuals on NCL cruises around Hawaii did not receive interpreters and other auxiliary aids, or a closed caption TV, and thus were unable to enjoy the activities on board the ship or the shore excursions because they could not understand what was going on and communicate effectively. The Justice Department also determined that four individuals who use wheelchairs did not get accessible buses between the airport, ship and hotel, and on shore excursions; had to wait hours for an accessible bus at times; were unable to go on shore excursions because of the lack of an accessible bus; were charged extra for accessible transportation; and/or were not allowed to get on and off the bus during a shore excursion even though the bus was accessible.

The relief in the consent decree specifically includes:

An access desk to handle requests for reasonable accommodations from guests with disabilities pre-cruise;

Access officers on board the ship to handle requests for reasonable accommodations from guests with disabilities during the cruise;

NCL shall respond in writing to a request for a reasonable accommodation within one week, when the request is made at least three weeks prior to sailing;

ADA training for NCL staff;

Pagers for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing to use while on the cruise, through which safety and other important announcements will be transmitted;

TTY communication devices for guests;

Visual tactile alert systems in staterooms for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing (i.e., visual or tactile alert to door knock, telephone ringing, alarm ringing and smoke detection);

Closed caption televisions in staterooms and common areas;

Written transcripts of the emergency drill; and

Accessible over-the-road buses, shuttle buses, and vans for transportation between the airport, ship, and hotels and on shore excursions, with no extra wait times for accessible transportation.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by public accommodations and private entities offering specified public transportation. It requires that public accommodations offer their programs and services in a manner that does not discriminate against people with disabilities. The Justice Department may bring lawsuits to enforce Title III seeking as relief injunctive remedies, monetary damages for complainants, and civil penalties.


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