RVing Accessibility Group Aids ADA Awareness
Mark Douglass is president and CEO of RVing Accessibility Group Inc., a 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization based in Pagosa Springs, Colo. He provided the following roundtable for the August issue of . You can reach him at (970) 903-7442 or at P.O. Box 5577, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147-5577.
What RV park, campground or outdoor recreation facility would not enjoy a 10% to 30% growth in revenues year over year? Our organization, RVing Accessibility Group (RVAG), is a 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit showing the outdoor recreation and hospitality industry how to do just that. And we do it through personal experience, example, education and training.
It’s not complicated. Depending on the investment, using tax incentives, the improvement can often times pay for itself in just the first year or less. If you could invest $5,000 in your business and could get a 100% return on your investment in just 12 months, would you make the investment?
It all started with a vision of publishing resource information for the disabled community who had the desire to experience the great outdoors, but not the environment to do so. Having been a person with permanent disabilities trying to enjoy the RV/camping experience, and blessed with a loving and caregiving wife, I sought out to put together a board of directors with caregiving and/or disabling experience and use my personal experience and professional accessibility training to help others who are where I have been, and educate the outdoor recreation industry on how accommodating this segment of the market can be extremely rewarding, both financially and spiritually.
A few months ago, I was asked by the ARVC Virginia Campground Association (VCA) to speak at their annual meeting, and speak to the members about accessibility and how to reach a mostly untapped market. Their executive director, David Gorin, who is also an RV park developer, contacted me and we set a plan in motion.
Due to Superstorm Sandy last fall, many fall campground annual meetings were delayed until this spring. The turnout for the VCA meeting was excellent, with many leaving the seminar wanting to know more than could be shared in a 90-minute presentation. The membership was very accommodating and eager to learn more about the ADA and the impact on their parks, both pros and cons. The end in mind was to help them understand how they can grow their businesses in ways they may never have considered. With 1 in 5 Americans having at least one disability and nearly half of those with a physical or developmental disability, wheelchair use is very common. So is access if they plan to enjoy the great outdoor experience, spending their discretionary income with merchants that provide freedom and independence that comes with full access.
As a wheelchair user during my childhood, I refused to ask for help as long as I could crawl or scoot. Later in life, I refused to ask for help as long as I had a wheelchair or scooter and an environment conducive of using mobility devices. As Americans, our freedom and independence are vital to our existence. It is no different for one with a disability. Persons with a disability are not handicapped. The handicap is the environment not conducive to independence for the person with a disability.
Bill Small, owner of Small Country Campground in Louisa, Va., commissioned RVAG to perform an accessibility assessment to help determine how to transition into an ADA compliant campground. Small, who engaged in creating a more accessible environment for his customers, received accolades from a few wheelchair users who were camping for the Memorial Day weekend. Comments included “fantastic,” “great awareness,” “ease of access” and, most importantly, “we will be back with family and friends on future camping trips.”
Phil Upton, owner of Trav-L-Park in Virginia Beach, Va., requested an assessment so he can better accommodate ALL of his customers, and provide a universal environment, useful to ALL persons who frequent his campground.
While many campground owners have purchased pool lifts, many have overlooked providing an outdoor recreation access route “to the pool.” One has to “get to the pool” before getting “in the pool.” Having a pool lift for the sake of having a pool lift is of no benefit to the public who needs such assistance when there is no firm and stable access route to get to the pool gate. Nor is the lift or access route of any benefit if the gate latch cannot be accessed properly or the gate wide enough to allow a chair user proper access.
It is necessary to understand the needs of your customers with disabilities and just as important, the standards in place to accommodate those customers and do so effectively. The ADA of 1990 has been around for 23 years, and if you are a Title II entity, the ABA (Architectural Barriers Act) of 1968 has been around for 45 years. So, it is not a matter of time, but more so a matter of education, planning and budgeting. There are tax incentives to help businesses overcome the hurdle of budget issues. We discuss this on our website, www.rvingaccessibility.org.
The outdoor recreation and hospitality industry is once again experiencing significant growth. Along with growth, come increased risk/reward factors. The disabled population is growing, as well as is the aging population. There are many RVers who are getting up in age, and although they may not have a disability, they just are not as mobile as in years past. There are the Baby Boomers, retiring and choosing to see the U.S. by RV. And then there are our military men and women who have returned, and continue to return, from fighting for our freedom, with visible and invisible disabilities, who would gladly spend a weekend camping with family and friends. The Great Outdoors provides a therapeutic environment that cannot be duplicated indoors. While our military has fought for OUR freedom, there is nothing greater that we, as a nation, can do for them than to provide the freedom and independence they deserve, just as any American. And it starts with the outdoor recreation environment.
The Virginia Campground Owners Association has taken measures to educate their members on how becoming ADA compliant and being more accessible can stimulate revenue growth and reputation, as well as just doing the right thing. RVers and campers like to share their experiences with one another, be it on forums or around a campfire. As such, when camping with disabilities comes up in a conversation, how would you like your campground reviewed?