People Who Make Things Happen in the Park Business
The plan is to each month share the thoughts, ideas and wisdom of people who influence RVers, manufacturers, RV dealers, park owners and others with active interests in the park business. I hope you find these interviews interesting and invite your feedback and suggestions to improve the value of this space.
Introducing Mark Douglass, President & CEO of the RVing Accessibility Group
With all of the angst and exasperation among park owners over the need to install swimming pool lifts and other ADA modifications, I thought it would be good to introduce Mark who is a disabled RVer with 17 years of RVing experience. Mark was born with mobility disablement and experienced numerous surgeries in his first 18 years to where he could be mobile without depending on his parents or a wheelchair. Later in life, Mark has experienced more mobility disabilities, and has been permanently disabled since 2001. Mark has managed an RV campground and has experience dealing with disabled RV travelers from various backgrounds and with various disabilities. Having experienced the challenges of being a traveler with a physical disability, Mark has a passion to help the outdoor recreation industry, specifically campgrounds and RV parks, learn how to be ADA compliant, providing accessibility to their customers with disabilities. Mark also provides like travelers and their caregivers with relevant and accurate information about campgrounds and RV parks that are accessible.
Mark is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a Degree in Marketing and a Degree in Business Management, as well as a minor in Business Psychology. Mark has over 35 years of sales and marketing consulting, quality assurance, and technical specification writing.
Mark spoke at the recent meeting of the Virginia Campground Association and is interested in speaking at state meetings in the coming year. Mark also consults with park owners to help them evaluate and correct ADA dificiencies in their parks.
DG: How did the RV Accessibility Group come about and what are the primary objectives of the organization?
Mark:: RVing Accessibility Group (RVAG) evolved from years of traveling while experiencing serious mobility issues (difficulty walking), requiring the use of a wheelchair during our RV trips. As a result of my own physical disability and the caregiving by my wife, who experienced as much frustration as I when it came to enjoying the campgrounds, we decided to keep track of campgrounds we would return to for future travel. Camping and RVing is often harder for the caregiver than the person with the disability. We never knew if I would ever walk again. After going through nearly 16 surgeries ending with a total ankle replacement in 2010, I regained most of my mobility, in and of itself a miracle. We searched the internet for organizations that published wheelchair accessible RV parks, only to find none that were up to date. It was shortly thereafter that we decided to use our own experience in an effort to help others who are where I have been and help them find ways to enjoy the RV lifestyle and all the outdoors has to offer, regardless of disability. Our primary objectives are two-fold; 1) to identify and publish RV parks and campgrounds that provide a level of wheelchair accessibility that would provide an overall environment conducive to one’s dignity and independence, and 2) to educate the RV and campground industry on accessibility standards and awareness to help them come into ADA compliance by providing accessibility assessments to identify barriers for removal and developing a transition plan for implementation of ADA compliant standards and features.
DG: When you speak before campground owner groups, what are you hoping to achieve with these presentations?
Mark: : When speaking before campground owner groups, it is my hope that campground owners would begin to look at their facility with a different set of eyes. Not everyone has 2 good legs or perfect eyesight. Perhaps rent a wheelchair and see just how accessible one’s park really is, starting with the RV site.
DG: As you know, over the last year or two there’s been considerable concern among park owners and other segments of the hospitality business over the swimming pool lift requirements. Compared to other accessibility issues and concerns, do you feel that pool lifts should be a high priority in providing accessible campgrounds or do you think we should be focusing on other barriers that might exist and might be more important in the near term?
Mark: Each campground should track their amenity use frequency and establish priorities based on customer use. For families, many times pool time is expected. To assume that a person in a wheelchair does not want to get in the pool is a bad assumption. Maybe they don’t, but just maybe if there was a way, they would. A very common response we receive to this issue is that “we have never had anyone in a wheelchair ask to use the pool”. As a former high school swimmer who not only grew up in a wheelchair, but ended up in a wheelchair in 1997, I can tell you that for me there is nothing more invigorating than a visit to the pool on a hot day. The pool lift accessibility requirement became law January 31, 2013 while the majority of other accessibility standards have evolved beginning with the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, followed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and amendments thereof, ADA/ABA Guidelines of 2004, ADAAG for recreation and play areas, including 2006 Accessibility Guidelines by the U.S. Access Board and the most recent 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, not to mention the 2012 International Building Code. With this much time between now and then, there really is no reason why campgrounds should not be fully compliant.
DG: Why should park owners be concerned about full compliance with the ADA? Other than complying with federal law, are there advantages for the park owner in complying?
Mark: Park owners should be concerned about full compliance because it is the law and not just the right thing to do. The advantage for park owners complying with the law include attracting a large segment of the RVing population, that often times feels unwelcomed, yet has significant discretionary spending power. Another advantage is the avoidance of severe penalties that can be assessed by the U.S. Department of Justice or litigation through the private sector. A common response regarding this issue with campground owners is, “that’s why I have general liability insurance”, yet they fail to understand that in some instances a disability discrimination lawsuit can result in significant monetary damages (in some cases more than what insurance covers, if insurance covers the judgment at all for an ADA non-compliant element that should have been compliant), renovation mandates, and even business closures. When properly marketed, a fully ADA compliant park can expect significant exposure through various media outlets, increased reputation, increased traffic, increased revenues, and increased repeat business. Furthermore, there are federal tax credits available to help offset accessibility renovations each year an inaccessible element is made ADA compliant.
DG: If your campground is fully accessible, how can a park owner market that accomplishment and what might the rewards be and what might the challenges be?
Mark: There are numerous ways to market a fully accessible park/campground. When done effectively, the results can be truly amazing. Few websites are dedicated to fully accessible parks. While the RVing Accessible Group is leading the way in this endeavor, the challenge is finding a “fully” accessible park to publish. It is like finding a needle in a haystack, if there truly is a needle to be found. One of the challenges that many park owners face is the issue of people without disabilities co-existing with people who either exhibit disabilities or have invisible disabilities. It is unfortunate, but with younger generations, there is still the stigma associated with being around a person with a severe disability and staring at such a person. Disability etiquette and more education is the key to bringing all groups of people into the same world.
DG: What can you tell us about the issue of internet and website accessibility? Is this something that should be of concern?
Mark: Internet and website accessibility is becoming more of an issue as more people with disabilities resume or begin their camping experience. Many people with visual impairment have screen readers where what is written on the screen is read to the website visitor. For those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, some websites are designed where one can mouse over a picture and the picture will be described with the history that goes with it. While these issues may become more of a concern over time, statistics show that the majority of people who go camping and have a disability have a physical disability. Yet, all disabilities need be considered and accommodated.
DG: Finally, what words of advice would you like to share with park owners about RVing and camping and accessibility? What messages do you have for our readers?
Mark: I know that when I was a child born with severe clubbed feet and unable to walk that I was fortunate not to be made fun of until I reached Junior High School when the name calling began and even then it was by only a few “bullies”. By age 18 I had more surgeries than most people have their entire life. Later in life, after a near fatal car accident, I ended up permanently disabled, and again, endured numerous surgeries to eventually regain my freedom of mobility recently.
Having been on both sides of the fence, serving and being served, there is one word that brings all people of all ages and disabilities together; Love. All living human beings have a beating heart and all have feelings, although some may not appear to care. I encourage all park owners to treat their employees and customers as they themselves would want to be treated. Live and exercise the Golden Rule. I encourage those with disabilities to stand tall and be strong. Don’t ever give up. Quitters never win and winners never quit. So, never quit! I am an example of one who gave up on ever walking freely again, only to find a solution of a total ankle replacement to give me my freedom back. The pain was unbearable at times and I told the surgeon that if the implant would not work, to amputate my foot as I would rather lose the foot than live with the pain. By the grace of God, the implant worked and I am now committed to helping others with disabilities find ways to enjoy the great outdoors. We all hear how much longer we are living today. Having said that, life is still too short. Get out, enjoy life, and enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer. Be grateful for what you have and not for what you don’t. Life is a journey! Live It!!