- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., one of the largest cruise-line companies operating in the United States, yesterday agreed to allow persons with visual impairments including the blind to travel on its ships under the same conditions as all other passengers, the Justice Department said.
The agreement is contained in a consent decree reached with the Justice Department and signed by U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King in Miami.
"People who are blind are competent to live and travel independently. Thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line, they will now be able to enjoy cruises on the same terms as everyone else," said Assistant Attorney General Ralph F. Boyd Jr., who heads the department's civil rights division.
The consent decree resolves a suit filed in January by the department under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against the cruise line. The suit followed complaints from three blind individuals, who said that when they booked cruises on Norwegian ships, Norwegian imposed requirements on them because of their visual impairments that it did not impose on others.
They said in their complaints that they were told they had to have a sighted companion in their cabin, obtain a doctor's note stating that they were "fit for travel," and sign forms assuming financial liability for shipboard injuries.
Stephen Gomes, one of those who complained, said he flew from Denver to Houston for a cruise he had booked, but was left waiting on the pier while Norwegian considered whether to allow him on the ship. He said he then was denied boarding because he was blind and traveling alone.
Robert and Joy Stigile, a blind couple who had planned to honeymoon on the "Norwegian Wind," said they were asked to sign a form requesting they travel with a sighted companion in the same cabin.
Norwegian denied the accusations, saying that Mr. Gomes was denied boarding because of expected heavy weather and that it ultimately withdrew the restrictions on the Stigiles' travel.
After the lawsuit was filed, Justice Department officials said Norwegian changed its policies to allow persons with visual impairments to travel with no special terms and conditions. Under the consent decree, Norwegian Cruise Line will continue its new policies.
Specifically, the officials said, Norwegian Cruise Line will not request or require any person with a visual impairment to travel with, or share a cabin with, a sighted companion; will not request or require any person with a visual impairment to obtain a medical note prior to traveling; and will not request or require any person with a visual impairment to assume liability for risks associated with traveling on a cruise ship, unless such request or requirement is made to all persons.
The cruise line also will designate an employee to deal with and address all matters related to the ADA; implement ADA training for Norwegian employees; pay Mr. Gomes and the Stigiles a total of $42,500; and pay $22,500 to the United States.
"With this agreement, Norwegian Cruise Line has joined other leaders in the travel industry in making access for people who are blind a priority," Mr. Boyd said. "We are pleased that Norwegian has taken these steps voluntarily, and we urge others to do the same."
The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by public accommodations and private entities offering specuied public transportation. It requires that public accommodations offer their programs and services in a manner that does not discriminate against people with disabilities.

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