Owning and operating a campground has never been a piece of cake. The same holds true for most small businesses, but campground owners had the added burden of dealing with weather, natural disasters, and a mostly seasonal/transient labor force. Now, you can add legal liability for their website content to the liability list, thanks to skyrocketing ADA lawsuits.
Americans with Disabilities Act Title III (ADA) lawsuits
For the past few years, the number of Americans with Disabilities Act Title III (ADA) lawsuits related to U.S. websites has skyrocketed.
In 2013, only about 2,722 total ADA lawsuits were filed in U.S. courts. Last year, that number ballooned to at least 11,452 – a 320 percent increase.
Most of these new lawsuits were filed in federal courts and were concerned with the accessibility to websites. It should be noted that this isn’t just a campground website problem, and the numbers above reflect the total number of U.S. cases. But hospitality websites seem to be a popular target for lawyers filing lawsuits.
ADA lawsuits within the camping industry
The increase in website content ADA lawsuits is certainly hitting the camping industry, and the fix isn’t cheap. Plaintiff lawyers in ADA cases argue that all websites should be ADA compliant, including having sufficient information about handicapped-accessible facilities and having options for the sight-impaired, such as spoken word software that would “read” all website content aloud.
Campground owners are among those hospitality providers often targeted to upgrade their websites to become totally ADA compliant, which can add greatly to website operational costs.
California accounts for more than half the total number of filings in 2021 (5,930). In fact, there were more ADA Title III lawsuits filed in California than in all other states combined. The U.S. Department of Justice has already interpreted the ADA’s accessibility requirements as being applicable to websites. That federal ruling makes it difficult for campground owners to mount a viable defense.
Campground website accessibility is important
Say what you will about ADA, the law has opened doors—literally—for many impaired individuals in the U.S. “Brick and mortar” stores (and campgrounds) were required to add ramps and handrails and make their facilities accessible. The changes for businesses were costly, but necessary.
Title III of the ADA, which includes requirements for website accessibility, has proven to be a bit more complex. Under Title III, existing publicly accessed facilities must remove all barriers to services—even on websites. Under the rule, public accommodations include facilities such as hotels, restaurants, bars, theaters, grocery stores, hardware stores, dry cleaners, banks, health care providers, lawyers, hospitals, bus and train stations, museums, libraries, zoos, amusement parks, daycare centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, gyms, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses … and campgrounds.
The CDC estimates that there are 61 million people in the U.S. with disabilities. If websites aren’t accessible, many of these people will have trouble using them. In fact, some courts have interpreted Title III of the ADA to include websites as “places of public accommodation” that must be compliant with ADA rules.
As more business websites take the steps necessary to become ADA compliant, those who haven’t acted run the risk of ADA-based lawsuits as well as lost business.
Campgrounds can be easy targets for law firms that specialize in filing ADA lawsuits. Exemptions aren’t allowed under Title III and there are no excuses campground owners can make if they are found guilty of an ADA violation—even on their websites.
What campground websites need to address
Many campground websites have been around since well before the advent of ADA and need significant work to be compliant with the law. ADA website issues usually include:
- Websites with flashing lights or images that could trigger seizures.
- Websites that use text that cannot be distinguished by people with color blindness.
- Websites with images without “alt text” or other items that cannot be read by screen-reading software.
- Websites that have audio content without captions.
- Websites that can’t be navigated using only a keyboard.
What it means for RVers
Campgrounds have struggled for years to bring their sometimes decades-old facilities up to date with ADA standards. The costs of physical compliance can be substantial and, just like other increasing costs, are ultimately passed along to consumers in some form.
The same is true of the costs for website ADA compliance. The costs of redesigning websites and adding new ADA features will ultimately be borne by campers through rate increases.
The ADA is the law of the land and campground owners—and their campers—both have to accept these new costs of doing business and enjoying the outdoors.