HOUSTON -- Disabled passengers who filed a lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line will appeal a court decision that rejected their claim that the line should make structural changes to its ships.

Although dismissing the idea of structural changes, Judge John D. Rainey of the U.S. District Court here agreed to hear the plaintiffs' other discrimination claims against NCL.

Among those are claims that NCL charged the disabled passengers full fare for wheelchair-accessible cabins, forced the disabled guests to bring a companion and charged the companion the full rack rate, said the plaintiffs' attorney, David George of the Houston-based law firm of Edwards & George.

The plaintiffs also charged that the line did not make provisions for wheelchair-bound passengers to access the ship's lifeboats or shore excursions, George said.

NCL said in a statement that the lawsuit, filed in August 2000, was "completely without merit" and the line "provides appropriate accessibility accommodations to all its passengers."

In the ruling, the court rejected NCL's argument that foreign-flagged ships do not have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

But the court declined to force NCL to make physical changes to its ships, saying the Transportation and Justice departments have not yet specified architectural ADA guidelines for passenger ships.

"We think the judge missed the point there," George said. "There are rules for hotels. [Cruise lines] have plenty of guidance."

The U.S. Access Board, which oversees the development of ADA rules, has introduced final recommended guidelines for use on passenger ships.

But Matthew Dietz, an attorney for the Miami-based disabled advocacy group Access Now, said it could take six to eight years for those rules to become official.

Dietz said that cruise lines have made a "good faith effort" to provide accessibility for their customers.

But, he added, "In bringing these suits we make the cruise lines more aware ... it's not what the cruise lines could do by moving a grab bar or partition. It's the fact that there's a purpose and reason behind the accessibility codes."


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