CARNIVAL SETTLES SUIT BY DISABLED

Cruise line will renovate 15 ships
Miami Herald, 4/17/01

by Ina Paiva Cordle

Carnival Cruise has agreed to "make substantial changes" to its l5 ships to make them more accessible to the disabled, settling a 1998 class-action lawsuit filed in Miami.

In the settlement, signed Monday, Carnival has agreed to renovate cabins, lounges, showrooms and elevators on its entire fleet and provide a pathway throughout each ship for wheelchair accessibility, said Matthew W. Dietz, a Miami attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Access Now, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the disabled and its president, Edward Resnick, a Miami Beach resident who has used a wheelchair since 1954 because of polio.

"It means that people who are disabled will finally be able to travel and will finally be able to cruise independently," Dietz said. "So, they can get from point A to point B on a ship without encountering barriers to access, will be able to see a show, take an elevator and go to the various discos on a ship."

The agreement, which is expected to cost Carnival millions of dollars, represents the first voluntary settlement between a disabilities rights organization and a cruise line to ensure access for the disabled community, Dietz said.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, alleged that Carnival vessels calling on Florida ports discriminated against disabled passengers because shipboard amenities did not provide adequate access or required the aid of an assistant.

According to the suit, Carnival ships failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by not making public restrooms handicapped accessible, by making stateroom aisles and bathroom entrances too narrow to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs without assistance and by erecting safety barriers aboard ships that prevent access to handicapped passengers.

Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher confirmed that the cruise line had agreed to make "substantial changes" to its vessels, but declined comment on the specific terms until the settlement is approved by the court.

"We have made every effort to address all the issues and concerns in good faith that Access Now has brought to our attention," Gallagher said, "And we are hopeful that this settlement agreement will get the court's approval."

A final hearing on the settlement, which encompasses 54 million disabled Americans considered part of the class, is expected within 90 days, Dietz said.

The cruise line has also agreed to pay up to $166,000 in attorney and expert fees and costs, he said.

As part of the agreement, between 20 and 25 cabins aboard each Carnival ship will be accessible to the disabled, with four to five cabins in each vessel fully compliant with the ADA, Dietz said. That means the cabins must have doorways that are 32 inches wide instead of the usual 25 inches, have a 36-inch path of travel within the room and have accessible bathrooms with roll-in showers.

All work must be completed within six years, Dietz said.

In addition to the suit against Carnival, Access Now has similar pending suits against Magical Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Hollard America Line-Westours and Costa Crociere.

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