Access to Passenger Vessels: US Policy

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In November, the Access Board will release for public review and comment information, including draft guidelines, on its effort to address access to passenger vessels under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA ensures access for people with disabilities to public transportation as well as to transit services provided by private entities. The standards currently used to enforce the ADA's transportation provisions cover access to buses, vans, rail cars and other vehicle types but do not address passenger vessels.

The Board is developing detailed guidelines for various types of vessels that will be used to supplement the standards.

Draft Guidelines for Large Vessels

The draft guidelines to be released cover access to large vessels, specifically those designed to accommodate more that 150 passengers or 49 overnight passengers. The guidelines are based on a report submitted to the Board by the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee. This committee, which the Board had created to develop recommendations on the guidelines, investigated various issues concerning access to different types of vessels and included representation from vessel operators and designers, naval architects, and disability groups, among others. A wide variety of vessels were taken into consideration, from those used primarily for transportation, such as ferries, to those used for recreation or other purposes, such as gaming boats and cruise ships.

Notice on Access to Smaller Vessels

In addition to the guidelines for large vessels, the Board will publish at the same time a notice seeking public input on how, and to what extent, small vessels should be addressed by the guidelines. As currently drafted, the guidelines focus on classes of large vessels, consistent with the committee's recommendations. Smaller vessels, by their size and design, pose unique challenges to accessibility. Through this notice, the Board will seek comments on how to cover access to classes of small vessels, such as water taxis and excursion boats, that carry no more than 150 passengers or 49 overnight passengers. The notice will outline several possible options developed by the Board for addressing access to such vessels in view of various design constraints.

As part of its work developing guidelines, the Board must prepare an analysis of their potential impact. The Board has developed a plan for its assessment of the vessel guidelines which will also be made available for public input. This document will outline the approach and methods to be used to assess the impact of the guidelines.

The draft guidelines for large vessels, the notice concerning smaller vessels, and the impact analysis plan will be posted on the Board’s website at This information will include instructions on submitting comments. The Board plans to hold a public meeting which will provide an opportunity for public feedback on January 10, 2005, in Washington, D.C. For further information contact the Board at (202) 272-0012 (v), (202) 272-0082 (TTY), or (e-mail).

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