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Royal Caribbean SpreadRoyal Caribbean's New Wave of Accessibility

By positioning itself to be the cruise line
of choice for guests with disabilities, Royal Caribbean International is capturing a growing niche market. It is striving to make sure every aspect of the cruising experience, from relaxing and exercising on deck, to dining and watching shows, to enjoying shore excursions, can be experienced by everyone. In an effort to go beyond ADA requirements, a multi-million dollar access project is being implemented to upgrade and add to its offerings.

ABILITY spoke with
Royal Caribbean’s Access Specialist
Laura Amor.

Chet Cooper: When did Royal Caribbean start thinking about accessibility?

Laura Amor: I believe it was when they began thinking about creating the position I am in. I was hired in March of 2000. We started talking in quarter four of ‘99.

CC: What are some of the programs that you’ve been able to implement?

LA: Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are spending almost 6 million dollars on retrofitting our fleet to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. Some of those projects include making tendering accessible through lifts and different kinds of ramps—depending on the ships and the ports of call. So, tendering will not be a problem for people in wheelchairs. We are putting pool lifts and jacuzzi lifts on all of our ships. We are making sure that all of our door thresholds are ramped. We are upgrading all of our signage so that each location will have Braille and tactile lettering. We are lowering one casino table in all of our casinos for blackjack. So, a person in a wheelchair can play blackjack much more easily. Our guest relations desks and our shore excursion desks, if they weren’t already built in an appropriate way, will have a lowered piece to make it easier to facilitate that communication. Our theaters will have infrared systems for the hard of hearing to amplify sound. We’re also instituting fleet-wide sensitivity training—‘what to do’ kind of training for effectively helping guests with disabilities.

CC: Is that in-house training or do you contract out?

LA: We’re developing our own program. We have an in-house training and development group. We are using an outside vendor to assist us with developing that. But, when we roll it out it will be with in-house trainers.

CC: Tell me about the different ports. How are you dealing with the different excursions?

LA: We are still in the data gathering phase. The shore excursion development part of our project is not all going to be done this year. It will be done by the middle of 2004, depending on our dry docks and those types of things. A lot of this is work you can only do in dry docks. In terms of shore excursions, we are still in the data gathering phase. For example, Alaska is 100% accessible no matter what it is that you want to do. We are now working on Hawaii. There are a lot of great options there. In data gathering, we are doing a lot of searches. For example, we just found a vendor in St. Thomas that has accessible vehicles. So, that’s a great find. Then, we work out shore excursions around that—utilizing their vehicles. We are definitely not there yet. Europe is still a huge challenge. We know that, but we’re not saying, “Okay, forget it. We’re not going to address it.” We are definitely going to address it. But, first we are trying to address the areas that we know we can have a large impact quickly. Then, we can work on the areas that we know are going to be a lot more difficult.

CC: Which ones are going to be easy?

Beach ChairLA: Well, the Caribbean is definitely a bit easier because we do a lot of philanthropic work in those areas already. It is also our core market. We definitely want to do something to impact the Caribbean. St. Thomas is one of those that I am excited about because we found this vendor two weeks ago. Hawaii, like I said, is getting better. Alaska is great. Our private islands are fully accessible. We have trams with lifts. We have wide-tire wheelchairs—those types of things. All of the bathrooms are 100% accessible to meet the ADA.

CC: How many islands do you have?

LA: Two private islands. Labadee and Cococay.

CC: Where are they located?

LA: Cococay is in the Bahamas. Labadee is a part of Haiti, whereas Cococay is in itself an island, although it is considered part of the Bahamas.

CC: Have you heard of a group called Accessible San Diego?

LA: Yes.

CC: They use wide-tire wheelchairs and wide-tire power-wheelchairs. They are saying that they are the first to do that. Maybe you should give them a call?

LA: Definitely. That’s a great idea.

CC: In your gathering of data, do you contact places that are accessible to look at as models?

LA: Definitely. One is the American Council for the Blind. Unfortunately, I had to push back how quickly we are going to complete our signage program. Because of certain states of affairs right now in the world, we’re starting that one in the middle of next year. I was just starting to make contact with the American Council for the Blind. I was going to work with them on the signage program. There really aren’t hard and fast guidelines for directional signage for the visually impaired. Under the ADA, you don’t have to make directional signage accessible. But, on a really large ship—if you’re blind—it’s going to be hard to get around unless you have some signage that is going to help you. So, my plans are to work with the American Council for the Blind on that, to get their feedback, to make sure we are doing the best that we can.

CC: Are you doing anything with closed captioning?

LA: Yes. We currently have free movies on our vessels. We have a distinct issue because all of the movies that we get have been edited for content. Most companies don’t closed caption the videos after they’ve been edited for us. They will closed caption the regular version but they won’t closed caption the version that has been edited. So, we’ve had some problems there. Right now, we have PG and G movies that are closed captioned. What we do—when we have large hard of hearing or deaf groups on board—is bring in some VCRs and some videos. We put a library of videos together. Then, people can check out the VCRs and videos and watch them in their rooms at no charge as well. So, we make other concessions in those kinds of situations. Also, when we have large groups of deaf or hard of hearing guests on board, we do provide sign language interpreters. We do have TDDs and TTYs for the cabins and what we call an “Alert Master System” that has bed shakers and wireless doorbells…those types of things.

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More stories from Kirk Douglas issue:

Kirk Douglas Interview

Stroke; Are You at Risk?

Adaptive Technologies; Making Computers Accessible

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