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People With Disabilities Win Supreme Court Cruise Line Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 6, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC--In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that foreign cruise ships operating in American waters must be made accessible in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ruling is one of just a few which have made it to the high court that have been decided in favor of people with disabilities since Congress passed the anti-discrimination law in 1990.

In the decision on "Douglas Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line", Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the ADA applies to foreign ships in U.S. waters the same as it does to American ships in the same waters.

Kennedy added, however, that the cruise ships should only have to remove access barriers when such removal is "readily achievable", that is, "without much difficulty and expense", and when it does not "conflict with principles of international law."

The case was filed by a group of passengers with disabilities and their companions who traveled on the Norwegian Star and Norwegian Sea cruise ships in 1998 an 1999. The ships originated in the Port of Houston, Texas, but sailed under the Bahamian flag.

The passengers filed the discrimination suit under Title III of the ADA, which covers accessibility in public accommodations. According to court documents, they claimed that physical barriers on the ships denied them access to emergency evacuation equipment and emergency evacuation-related programs; facilities such as public restrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, and elevators; and cabins with a balcony or a window. They also alleged that the cruise line charged them extra for using accessible cabins and for the assistance of crew members.

In January of last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in part for the cruise line. Both sides then asked for the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Monday's ruling could mean the $2.5 billion foreign cruise travel industry could be forced to spend millions of dollars to make cruise ships more accessible.

Several disability advocacy groups had filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief supporting Spector and the other plaintiffs in the case.

Spector et al. v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. (U.S. Supreme Court via FindLaw)


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