e were reminded recently that the
government still owes the cruise industry a set of guidelines with
which to govern handicapped access to the burgeoning fleet of
cruise ships serving the U.S.
Nearly three years ago, the government appointed an advisory
committee to work out guidelines for making passenger vessels more
accessible. The group included people from industry, government and
advocacy groups representing the disabled. At the time, the
Americans with Disabilities Act already had been on the books for
several years, but nobody had come up with a workable plan for
applying its accessibility standards to cruise ships, ferries,
fishing boats and other vessels, much less passenger terminals,
docks and piers.
The government agency that deals with such matters, the
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board,
received a report from the advisory committee late last year.
The Board's staff is drafting passenger vessel-accessibility
guidelines based on that report, but they are not likely to be
published until next year. That will be followed by a review
process, public comments and perhaps hearings.
If the guidelines are adopted, the Justice and Transpiration
departments will be expected to incorporate them into their
regulations and determine how and when they are to be applied,
which ships should be "grandfathered" and which need to be modified
and when. More cost-benefit analysis. More time.
Meanwhile, an unprecedented number of new cruise ships -- and
vessels of all other types, from houseboats to ferries -- are under
construction. To their credit, vessel operators increasingly are
incorporating accessible design features into their new builds. But
this task would be far simpler, and less risky, if the industry and
disabled travelers had the benefit of clear guidelines from the