DOJ Ruling on Disabled Rights in Cruise Ships
Lala C. Ballatan
Published on October 21, 2017
Travel & Leisure / Cruises
It is interesting to note that many disabled persons, instead of slinking away and being embarrassed by their conditions, are asserting their rights. They already educate themselves with the basics of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, a law which protects them against discrimination and rules that establishments and such give proper accommodations for them.

Adopted to remove the barriers that prevented the society from benefiting from the participation and contributions of individuals with disabilities, the ADA took effect in July 26, 1990. Its Title I prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities Ė whether in job application, procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. It also has the qualifications of a person with disability. Four other titles of ADA includes other aspects where the issue of disability is very much considered: public services and public transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications and miscellaneous.

Many states have also adopted and enforce versions of the federal ADA. Now, on the Supreme Court rulings posted by Peggy McGuiness at Opinio Juris, referred to by Walter Olson on March 2, 2005 at the site, several important and interesting issues about the ADA were raised.

An argument ensued at the Supreme Court when the Department of Justice (DOJ) sided with a group of disabled cruise passengers who sued Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) for failing to provide the kinds of accommodations required on public transportation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The defendant, NCL argues that they should be exempt from ADA regulation in the same way that they are exempt from federal labor laws because their ships fly under the Bahamian flag. The DOJ and the plaintiffs argue that the ADA can be applied to foreign flagged vessels operating in US waters precisely because they come in and out of US jurisdiction and operate as a public accommodation.

Now, this is really quite an ruling since it essentially goes beyond the international law, which maintain that ships are generally only subject to the jurisdiction of the state under whose flag they sail. Infact, cruiselines choose to register under foreign flags precisely to avoid certain regulatory restrictions and costs (i.e., taxation, labor and employment laws).

The DOJ ruling favoring the disabled has become a broad application of the ADA to foreign-flagged vessels. This might even be conceivably applied not only to cruise ships, but also to every merchant marine vessel that ever enters US waters. But cruiselines are not interested in complying with the nationís stringent ADA since compliance in those circumstances would be extraordinarily expensive and a burden on trade.

I think thereís nothing wrong with the ruling, though. Itís just that, public services, transportation and all other busness establishments must not just think about the expenses that go with compliance on several laws. They must simply learn to respect the rights of disabled citizens.

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