By Mark Douglass
Co-founder, RVing Accessibility
Ever heard the saying, “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so?”
As an advocate who has spoken at numerous RV and campground associations and national symposiums throughout various parts of the United States, I am now reading more and more about what I informed park owners about since 2012. All listened, but few acted.
A number of RV parks in Arizona, all who will remain anonymous, have recently been sued for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A single plaintiff has filed suit against these parks in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and has chosen an attorney whose sole line of litigation is the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This plaintiff has apparently filed similar lawsuits against 44 other establishments, including lodges, based on non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whether this plaintiff has been successful on any or all of these other 44 disability discrimination lawsuits is unknown at this time.
After traveling extensively in 2013 and 2014 speaking to RV park and campground associations on ADA compliance and how to increase traffic while protecting their business, it is beyond amazing how many park owners just ignore the law. They would rather attempt to fly under the radar and take their chances than to develop a compliance plan to protect their businesses.
And, it won’t be long before the new federal Outdoor Developed Area Guidelines will apply to all parks and campgrounds, not just federal parks.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if someone is building a new RV park, then implementing the new guidelines is just good business. Why not do the right thing? Why invest millions of dollars building a new RV park, and then a year or two later have to redo a number of RV sites, pads, grills, tent pads, and spend good money that could have been spent better the first time around.
It’s not much worse than playing around a hornets’ nest. It’s only a matter of time before you get stung.
The bigger targets include corporate and franchise organizations such as Equity Lifestyle, KOA, Leisure Systems, Carefree Resorts, Sun RV Resorts, Coast to Coast, Cruise Inn and others, who may simply not understand the extent of ADA compliance. But, it doesn’t mean smaller RV parks are being ignored. Plaintiffs are coming after them, too.
The park owners and managers simply need education, which we would gladly provide at a regional or national setting. It’s not just about the RV site — the ADA laws impact the entire campground.
While I realize this may anger some people, frankly people who face accessibility challenges are tired of excuses and the old phrase, “we’ll get around to it” or “we don’t have the money” or “it just costs too much.”
If you think yearly upgrades cost too much, just wait until the U.S. Department of Justice gets hold of you. There’s just no acceptable excuse considering the ADA laws are more than 25 years old. Tell that to a judge.
I have personally stayed at RV parks belonging to many large organizations and, in most cases, I have enjoyed my stay. However, they simply lack ADA compliance for the benefit of ALL persons, regardless of disability. Smaller campgrounds aren’t any better at complying with the law.
Having visited with executives of each of these organizations, they recognize the need to be accessible to all persons with disabilities. Some pass the buck on to their franchisees, stating that even though the franchisee is “branded,” that corporate has an “opt out” clause should a lawsuit be filed against the franchisee.
More needs to be done besides just recognizing the need. If campground owners are going to talk the talk, they need to walk the walk or potentially risk serious litigation. It’s not a matter of if, but only a matter of when.
As one executive director of a national RV park association put it in an email to me, “We talk and talk, but no one listens until it hits them.”
If you don’t have an ADA compliance plan and you get sued by a legitimate plaintiff, odds are you will lose and possibly lose your business depending on your resources to fight the suit and pay the fines and civil damages.
Why wait opt to spend tens of thousands of dollars defending a potentially hopeless case when you can easily invest a few thousand dollars to protect your business?
If you are an RV park owner with your future at stake with the investment in your park, don’t wait until someone tries to sue you for an Americans with Disabilities Act violation. The cost of defense can easily pay for an assessment and ADA compliance plan several times over, not to mention the peace of mind that comes with having a compliance plan in place. How much do attorneys charge per hour?
RVing Accessibility Group is the nation’s leading all volunteer educational 501 (c)(3) nonprofit advocate for the RV park and campground industry. If you want to be proactive and avoid disability discrimination litigation, contact us for an estimate for an on-site assessment and ADA compliance plan and then allow us to help develop that plan to help you have peace of mind.
To support our effort to educate RV-related businesses about issues concerning accessibility, click here to make a tax-deductible donation.
A disabled RVer with 20 years of RVing experience as an adaptive traveler, Mark Douglass is the co-founder of RVing Accessibility Group. His group’s mission is to raise awareness for inclusive recreational accessibility through education, example and experience to the disabled and aging community. He also managed a Class A RV park servicing RV travelers from various backgrounds and with various disabilities.