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A New Frontier: Renting Accessible RVs

By Sherry Karabin

The ability to take an excursion to one of America’s many campgrounds in an RV is something many people take for granted. But for the physically challenged, there are serious obstacles to embarking upon such a trip, starting with the fact that there are few RVs for rent that can meet the needs of this group.

But now, a unique partnership between Fairlawn, Ohio-based RVShare and the nonprofit organization RVing Accessibility Group Inc. is offering a solution to this problem by connecting owners of these specialized RVs with renters.

RVShare (http://www.rvshare.com) made its debut on the Internet in December 2013. Its goal is to provide a platform for RV owners and renters. Pagosa Springs, Colorado-based RVing Accessibility Group focuses on educating its RV and campground industry members about current compliance standards for people with disabilities.

The two have different objectives, but they have one important thing in common: a love and appreciation of RVing. It was during a November 2014 trade show in Las Vegas that RVShare owners Mark Jenney, Joel Clark and Patrick Couch got their first glimpse of the uphill battle facing physically challenged individuals who want to take their vacations on the road.

“We stopped by RVing Accessibility Group’s booth and started talking about how a large portion of the country has accessibility needs and how there are few accessible RVs available for rent,” Clark said. “It really struck a chord with us since we aggregate all the RV rentals in the country.”

“Our group has been working hard to help make campgrounds accessible,” said Sabrina Thompson, an outdoor accessibility advocate and volunteer for RVing Accessibility Group.

“While there are manufacturers that make accessible RVs, they are privately owned,” Thompson said. “Most people are not going to invest in buying an expensive vehicle without first deciding how they feel about RVing, so we are trying to make it easier for people to find rentals so they can have the same chance to fall in love with RVing as those without physical challenges.”

“Renting an accessible RV is hugely frustrating,” said Kevin Hansen, president of World Wheelchair Sports in Eugene, Ore

Hansen broke his neck in a skiing accident in 1975 and is now in a wheelchair. As someone who enjoys the outdoors, he has been trying to get his wife to take a trip with him in an RV to see how she feels about it. The problem is, there is never any thing available, or if there is a vehicle, it may require a cross-country trip just to pick it up.

“This is beginning to change,” Hansen said. “I think a site like RVShare is long overdue, since it is filling an important need. I also think that any place that rents or sells RVs should have at least one accessible vehicle available. It makes good business sense.”

Cheri Fiducia, RV rental manager at Guaranty RV in Junction City, Ore., said she has received a number of calls from people interested in ability-equipped coaches.

She said she has ordered an Itasca Sunstar accessible RV. The vehicle is expected to arrive in the middle of June, and reservations are being taken for July.

“People who are not able to walk on their own may need features like a power roll-up door, a power lift, roll-in shower, lower shelves and switches as well as doors that are wide enough for a wheelchair,” Fiducia said. “They cannot rent just any RV.”

“Our owner is very active within the accessibility community,” said Marshall White, marketing director at Guaranty RV. “He has a disability himself, so it is very important to him to provide freedom of mobility to a wide range of guests.”

White said that as the baby boomers age, they will be looking for vehicles that meet various assistance needs. “Even if they are not in a wheelchair, they may need handrails or walk-in showers. Those dealers that meet their needs will reap the financial benefits.”

Finding an accessible RV is only one part of the equation; the other is the campground itself.

Jeff Sims, director of state relations and program advocacy for the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds, said his trade association works with members to help them understand and comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We have developed a self-evaluation form for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal for Priorities 1 through 4 (of the ADA) and the recreational checklist for swimming pools, wading pools and spas,” Sims said.

Priority number one is the approach and entrance, followed by access to goods and services, toilet rooms and additional access, he said. “Not everything on the list is readily achievable, but we encourage members to have a transition plan in place.”

In terms of making campgrounds accessible, he said owners have to start at square one from the moment the person pulls into the park’s entrance, attacking accessibility issues each step of the way, including the office, store, pool, playground, common areas and restrooms

. “People think that as long as a restroom is near the campsite, it is accessible,” Sims said. “But there is more to it. The person must be able to get through the door with the wheelchair and fit into the stalls.”

Some things, such as making trails accessible, are even more challenging, he said.

Sims said that in 2011, the United States Department of Justice set a mandatory deadline of March 15, 2012, for owners to install pool lifts. “The law says that the adjustments must be readily achievable, which means they can be accomplished without much difficulty or expense.

“A number of campgrounds have made the change, but some of the smaller ones, which have limited revenue, are developing compliance plans for the future. Technically, ADA campsites are not currently mandated to make public accommodations under Title III of the ADA.”

Sims said that will happen in the future, but the industry is doing its best to embrace the changes now based on the United States Access Board’s new Standards for Outdoor Developed Areas. He said those standards currently apply only to national parks and other outdoor areas developed by the federal government. But Sims said the U.S. Access Board intends to develop guidelines for non-federal outdoor sites covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act under Title III.

The reason for getting a jump-start on the requirements now is simple, Sims said. “We are an outdoor hospitality industry, and we want to ensure that all people can enjoy the outdoors.”


Sherry Karabin writes for the American Bar Association and the Akron Legal News and is a freelance on-camera reporter for PMCM-TV in New Jersey.


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