A newspaper in Michigan is reporting on what is described as a the "shocking and scary" story of a disabled cruise passenger who faced  the obstacles of a non ADA-compliant cruise ship only to have the cruise line force him off the ship in a Caribbean port to fend for himself alone. 

Jim Keskeny, age 66, is confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("MS").  He booked a cruise of the eastern Caribbean with Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by cruise line giant Royal Caribbean Cruises.

The newspaper reports that Mr. Keskeny paid $4,000 for a larger stateroom for his wheelchair.  He Jim Keskeny - ADA - Cruise Ship - Disability - Handicapped Passenger also reportedly paid extra to have a crew member available to assist him because he was traveling alone. 

According to the article "Voices of Disability: Cruise Line Strands Disabled Senior on Island" written by journalist Jerry Wolffe,  Mr. Keskeny had traveled extensively during his career on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation.  But his treatment on the cruise ship was like nothing he had experienced before.  The cruise line refused to assist him getting over the non ADA-compliant threshold into the bathroom, or to assist him when he fell.  “They wouldn’t touch me,” he said. “I felt like a leper.”

“If they had to touch me or lift me, I would be made to disembark,” he said cruise officials told him.

On the seventh day of the cruise, the cruise officers were true to their threat.  They ordered Mr. Keskeny off the cruise ship and left him in his wheelchair in Guadeloupe, alone.  He reportedly spent about $1,500 to get home. 

The newspaper notes that of additional concern to Mr. Keskeny, was the fact that he had to travel through the airport in Haiti.  Travel to Haiti normally requires vaccinations for certain diseases which pose a particular threat to Mr. Keskeny because of his MS which weakens a person’s immune system. 

The cruise in question was aboard the Century, one of Celebrity Cruises’ older ships.

Although our firm does not handle ADA violation cases, the issue of how cruise lines treat or, in this case, mistreat customers is of particular interest to me.   How any particular corporation treats the handicapped and elderly is ultimately the greatest reflective of the ethics and core values of the company.

We asked Royal Caribbean for its side of the story but the cruise line refused to respond.

Ironically, in February we reported on this cruise line exceeding a disabled passenger’s expectations (admittedly only after a few disastrous attempts).  Consider reading Celebrity Cruises Provides Perfect Cruise for Visually Impaired Guest.

Readers, what do you believe is the cruise line with the best (or worst) reputation for accommodating the needs of disabled passengers? 

Let us hear from you.  Please leave a comment below.  

April 13, 2011 Update:  Cruise Critic has an article with Celebrity’s spin on the story – "Disabled Cruise Passenger Ordered Off Celebrity Ship During Charter."  The article says that the cruise line has a policy that passengers with special needs must be self-sufficient and, if need be, travel with a companion to provide assistance with eating, dressing, toileting or lifting. I initially did not see any such language on Celebrity’s web site or in its "Special Needs" section. Under a section called "Outstanding Service," the cruise line says: With one staff member for nearly every two guests, Celebrity’s personal service anticipates your every need. Unobtrusively. Intuitively. So you’ll feel restored and relaxed–effortlessly. In your stateroom . . ."

A reader brought the answer to the question "Can I Travel Alone?" in the Frequently Asked Questions site to my attention.  However, this is not a term or condition in the passenger ticket and is just an "answer" to a "frequently asked question" and of no legal effect.  I see no terms and conditions stating that the cruise line can send a disabled passenger off the ship for not reading a "frequently asked question."   

In any event, why kick a 66 year old disabled passenger off of a cruise under these circumstances?

Where is the compassion people?

Although Cruise Critic quotes the cruise line calling the incident "regrettable," and the company which chartered the cruise ship uses the phrase "terribly unfortunate," it looks like their regret for Mr. Kesney’s misfortune stops short of reimbursing him a penny. 

April 18, 2011 Update:  Read our updated article: Celebrity Cruises and Disabled Passenger Exchange Threats – Are Celebrity’s Cruise Ships ADA Compliant?


Photo credit:  WXYZ ABC-7 Farmington Michigan