Cruise Lines

The United States Supreme Court held in Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd that American flagged cruise ships and foreign flagged cruise ships that dock at United States ports are subject to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as places of “public accommodation” and “specified public transportation” services.[1]  As a result, cruise lines are prohibited from discriminating against passengers on the basis of their disability by “fail[ing] to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.”[2]

Additionally, a cruise ship as a passenger vessel is also under the purview of the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations and the Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations enforcing Title III of the ADA.[3] The DOT regulation places the responsibility on the private passenger vessel to “furnish appropriate auxiliary aids or services where necessary to ensure effective communication” and not on the passenger with a disability.[4] In the process of providing the passenger with auxiliary aids, the vessel may not charge the passenger extra fees when the vessel provides services it is required to provide under this rule.[5] A qualified on-site interpreter is one such auxiliary aid or service.[6]

Further clarifying the requirements of passenger vessels and other public accommodations, the DOJ regulation largely mirrors the language used by the DOT in 49 C.F.R. § 39. For example, “a public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(c).  Additionally, the DOJ also prohibits a public accommodation from “impos[ing] a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures, such as the provision of auxiliary aids.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.301(c). Among the accepted forms of auxiliary aids, the DOJ also includes qualified on-site interpreters. 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(b)(1).

The NAD advocates that cruise lines that dock at U.S. ports should fully accommodate any requests for interpreter services by covering the full cost of two qualified on-site interpreters for the duration of the cruise, in addition to covering the costs of the interpreters’ stateroom and all onboard gratuities.

[1] 545 U.S. 119, 132 (2005); 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a); 42 U.S.C. § 12184(a); see also Stevens v. Premier Cruise Inc., 215 F.3d 1237,1243 (11th Cir. 2000) (holding that cruise ships sailing within the waters of the United States fall under Title III as a “public accommodation”).

[2] 42 U.S.C. § 12182 (b)(2)(A)(iii); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12184 (b)(2)(B).

[3] See 49 C.F.R. § 39; 28 C.F.R. § 36.

[4] 49 CFR 39.51(b) and (d).

[5] 49 C.F.R. § 39.43.

[6] 49 C.F.R. § 39.3.