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ADA lawsuits skyrocketing, website accessibility requirements not followed

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.

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J H
5 months ago

The biggest problem is that the ADA is over 30 years old and does not include web accessibility guidelines and requirements as does WCAG or Section 508. DOJ needs to get on the ball and work on an ADA refresh to include electronic content, from apps to websites to fillable forms and other electronic content.

And it often isn’t about adding accessible content to a currently existing website, it is about re designing and creating a whole new experience with an authoring tool or platform that allows for accessible content creation.

Bill J
5 months ago

This article gave campground owners a sympathetic excuse for ADA noncompliance with the claim that their web sites predate the ADA. Since the ADA was signed into law in 1990, and the World Wide Web was created in 1989 with the first search engine being written and published in 1990, the two grew up together. There should be no excuse for noncompliance. Since most campground owners probably don’t write their own code for their site, maybe it would be better to go after the web site vendors who never should have built and sold a product that was not ADA compliant. It has been 31 years since the ADA became the law of the land. We sure love ignoring problems until people are personally affected, or the lawyers smell money. I have no love for trial lawyers, but this has been going on for so long it is time to let the wolves make people pay attention.

J H
5 months ago
Reply to  Bill J

Yes!

DW/ND
5 months ago

Hmmmm… brings to mind social media sites – like Facebook et al…… are they compliant?

J J
5 months ago

Glad to see it. Lawsuits against non-ADA compliant web sites have been going on for over a decade. As web sites went more glitzy and used more Javascript and mouseovers to pop up qwap they became less compliant.

At the bank I worked for we made the web site fully ADA compliant a decade ago, except for third-party linked sites. We enlisted the help of a blind customer to help us find and fix things that were compliant but sub-optimal. She also was an attorney and did all of the testing for free. She was happy to do it because it made things easier for her.

The biggest issue were third-party sites we linked to that were non-compliant such as for online banking and online loan applications. It took some significant work to force those megacorps to change their behavior.

Sharon B
5 months ago

Being wheel chair bound is no picnic. Steps are impossible. Bathooms are difficult.
Having one ADA compliant RV site can make a difference to a wheel chair bound camper. A sloping ramp next to steps going up to an office can be added. These simple additions can make a difference possibly avoiding a law suit to campground owners. Best recommendation is to read the ADA website for compliance additions before getting sued. Better yet call the pros Marshal Sterling for ADA information.

Magee
5 months ago
Reply to  Sharon B

Agreed – it’s no picnic. But how does that camper get into the RV, how does he/she get around to hook up utilities? How do they drive to the campgound and then get out of vehicle into wheelchair or whatever they use. I think most probably have someone else with them that does those things. I may be wrong.

camper girl
5 months ago

I saw that almost all the sites I was trying to reserve this morning are now marked with the wheelchair symbol. Some of these have steps and some are steep. It’s like whoever adjusted the website just made all sites ADA except tent sites, even if the site is not easily accessible.

Firefly
5 months ago

Is the RV Travel website fully compliant? It would have been nice to have some background from the RV Travel web designers on how difficult they find compliance. Are non-compliant websites simply lazy or is it a true difficulty making a compliant website. Is there something special about campground websites that makes them more difficult to bring into compliance when compared to other businesses? How about a quote from a campground that has been sued?

None of those elements are in here. Is this just a rewritten press release from a lobbying group that hates America? Or a sales pitch from a web design firm specializing in ADA compliance? It is certainly not journalism.

Clint
5 months ago

I question the CDC statistic that 61 million people in the US have disabilities. That is one out of every five people. If you factor in statistically healthier children, that brings it down to 1 out of every 3 or 4 adults are disabled. The CDC’s track record of false and misleading information dissemination makes questioning anything they say a no brainer.

Tim
5 months ago
Reply to  Clint

More like all the people scamming the system. Now a days, everybody has some kind of “disability”. Spent your life in gluttony? 5′ tall and 300lbs? A lawyer will get you on SS Disability.

Diane Mc
5 months ago

At the new Sugarloaf Key KOA in the Keys. Rebuilt after destroyed by hurricane Irma. We are in a site with a large paver patio w/a gravel/rock spot for RV. The site next to us, which is on the end of the row, is designated as a handicapped spot. The patio/rv parking is all in pavers, no gravel/rock. Everything else seems to be same.

Tommy Molnar
5 months ago

“there were more ADA Title III lawsuits filed in California than in all other states combined”. Shocking! – NOT!
If you are so disabled that you can’t navigate the website, how did you get there in the first place? I’m all for the laws in place about wheelchair access (to places where the general public would normally go), curb deletes, larger doors, automobile ‘adjustments’ for those who can’t navigate in and out of regular cars, etc. But I see these lawsuits as just ways for rotten lawyers to make boatloads of cash for little or no effort.

Suru
5 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

In the 1990s I was working for a contractor in California in a smaller town. All of a sudden we were getting bombarded by businesses that needed to add ramps, new storefronts, update bathrooms, etc. What was happening was a lawyer was representing a client in Connecticut who was disabled and was suing every small mom and pop business in town that was not ADA compliant. The client had never set foot in the town, but if he wanted to, then he couldn’t access most of the businesses, nor could he work at any of the businesses, thus “he” sued. The law firm would file claims on his behalf and of course win the suit or settle. The law firm’s fees would be paid by the businesses. It cost a lot of good people a lot of money in lawyer fees. The big winner was the law firm.

Tom
5 months ago
Reply to  Suru

And I’m sure the lawyer went looking for the client.

Tommy Molnar
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Lawyers. The scourge of the earth.

Tim
5 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Until, of course, you need one.

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