ADA compliance at your service

Ongoing work to upgrade passenger ships to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act has created a specific need for expertise that spans land-based and maritime design regulations, according to Foreship LLC’s Benjamin Sward

ADA compliance at your service


By Guest |

If being able to use every amenity and attraction advertised is a justifiable expectation of any vacation, having the same opportunities as others to do so is also a right. Having access, freedom of movement and useable bathroom facilities are now civil liberties for people with disabilities, as well as focal design principles for public spaces. 

For the cruise industry, the most potent of regulation covering this area is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was revised in 2010 to include accessibility, signage, bathroom facilities, public areas and cabin features onboard passenger ships. Its guidelines require the spaces and amenities guests encounter onboard ships calling at ports and destinations in the USA are free of built-in discrimination. 

Initially developed for buildings ashore, ADA applies to ships which also need to meet structural, fire zone and evacuation rules written into maritime law, and are designed with a different view of space limitations and interconnectedness. Owners must undertake remedial work if their ships fall short of ADA requirements. 

Adapting to ADA requirements is challenging because they are land-based rules that do not necessarily reflect shipboard spaces. Deck camber, for example, is a normal part of ship design that would not be acceptable on land.  

As a naval architecture and marine engineering firm, Foreship has worked with multiple cruise ship owners on ADA, all of which had very different levels of compliance. 

Foreship supports owners by developing technical solutions to bring public venues and ADA cabins into compliance. Considerations include ramp access, turning space or easy counter/bar top access for wheelchair users; clear walkways and visual/tactile signage for visually impaired guests; and seating with knee clearance for users of mobility devices. 

Foreship takes care of the design, engineering and project management for ADA, which can include technical packages for refurbishing public spaces and installing limited use, limited application elevators. 

In one project, Foreship completely redesigned 20 public restrooms to reflect ADA access requirements. Accommodation designated for people with disabilities will also need to pass muster as either ambulatory access cabins or, in some cases, fully accessible cabins. 

Although Foreship is not a certified ADA engineer as such, years of experience working with the rules mean our team has acquired strong technical competence and familiarity with the requirements. In addition to design and technical support, we offer owner’s representation to liaise with authorities and class societies onsite during execution and throughout the project lifecycle. 

Foreship is one of very few companies which sees how different cruise lines approach ADA issues, allowing us to gain insight into what works well and what doesn’t. Our team has also found this work personally inspiring after meeting several individuals who have been positively impacted by these changes and witnessing their benefits firsthand. On a recent cruise with my family, I met a man in a wheelchair who was enjoying the same venues with his children that I was sharing with my own family. As a father, that really struck a chord with me. 

In some cases, the need to undertake remedial work for ADA has also been taken as an opportunity by owners to accelerate refurbishment work that was already under consideration for an area of a ship. 

For the Foreship team onboard, these types of projects can be especially enjoyable and motivating as they take us back to our roots in traditional refurbishment work while we’re also working towards a greater good. 

Benjamin Sward is president at Foreship LLC 

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