Survey on Campground Accessibility: Policies and Practices
National Center on Accessibility
Note: The full report 25 pages with appendices
is available through NCA for $20.
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The National Center on Accessibility
The National Center on Accessibility is a dynamic and innovative
leader in the movement to include people with disabilities in recreation,
parks, and tourism. Since its inception in 1992, professionals
such as park superintendents, facility managers, architects and
landscape architects, program coordinators, civil engineers, planners,
interpreters and exhibit designers, accessibility coordinators,
advocates and consumers have drawn on NCA as a valued resource.
Through its comprehensive services: Research, Technical Assistance,
and Education, NCA focuses on universal design and practical accessibility
solutions creating inclusive recreation opportunities for people
of all abilities. NCA’s innovative programs, comprehensive
services, and experienced staff drive the development of knowledge,
skills, and ultimately action, creating inclusive recreation opportunities
for people of all abilities.
The National Center on Accessibility (NCA) responds to thousands
of requests each year from agencies, organizations, and individuals
regarding accessibility to recreation, park and tourism programs,
and facilities. The NCA, in large measure, sets its annual priorities
for education, technical assistance and research as a result of
these inquires. As is shown by the diagram, the NCA annual work
plan is developed from input that we receive from those requesting
technical assistance and from the feedback that we receive from
our training program participants. Our training programs spawn
additional technical assistance questions and the technical assistance
questions that we receive, sometimes result in the development
of our research agenda. When we receive questions and discover
gaps in the literature where there seemingly is a lack of information
and lack of a knowledge base, we ultimately would like to find
ways to answer those questions. NCA has a long history of seeking
practical solutions to accessibility issues such as swimming pools,
trails, golf, picnic areas, and campgrounds.
In 2001 NCA, through a subcontract with the University of Tennessee,
Recreation and Tourism Management, Dept. of Consumer and Industry
Services Management, conducted a study of Visitor Expectations
and Perceptions of Program and Physical Accessibility in selected
National Parks. Data were collected in the surrounding communities
of the selected five national park units including the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Shenandoah
National Park, the Mammoth Cave National Park, and the Hot Spring
National Park. The results and Executive Summary final report from
that research can be found on the NCA
at http://ncaonline.org/outdoor-dev/expect.shtml. The full report
is available by contacting NCA.
While the 2001 study did not focus solely on campgrounds, one
of the findings showed that people with disabilities often go to
these parks with the specific goal of using the park’s campgrounds.
While doing so, they found a significant lack of accessibility.
The 2001 study along with many inquiries from people with disabilities
and campground operators, provided the primary incentive for NCA
to conduct a study focused on camp ground accessibility.
The purpose of this study was partly to identify existing policies
and procedures common to accommodating people with disabilities
in campgrounds and campsites throughout the country; and partly
to determine the current level of accessibility in campground facilities
throughout the nation. The intent of the data collection was to
identify common policies, exemplary practices, and issues where
clear policies were not available. The ultimate objective was to
provide campground owners and operators with examples of principles
and policies that might guide them in future efforts to make their
facility both programmatically and physically accessible.
NCA staff determined that a web-based survey would be the instrument
of choice. NCA staff went through a six month process of developing,
revising and refining the questions to be included in the online
survey. In addition, staff conducted an exhaustive search of campgrounds
in the USA and in the end over 3,000 e-mail and mail addresses
primarily via the Internet and in consultation with major campground
organizations such as KOA, Campgrounds USA and various federal
and state government web sites. Additionally, the Accessibility
Managers of the major federal agencies that operate campgrounds
(National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management,
Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were asked
to circulate the study information to the campgrounds in their
respective agency. Study information was also sent to the various
state land managing and natural resources agencies. Finally, a
presentation was made to the National Association of State Park
Directors encouraging them to participate and trainees at an NCA
training program in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park were
also invited to participate.
Once the survey instrument was finalized, NCA partnered with the
Indiana University Center for Policy and Planning Studies at the
Indiana Institute on Disability and Community to post the study
and tabulate the results.
The survey consisted of 34 questions (see Appendix I). The questions
were a combination of yes/no, multiple choice and fill in the blank.
Respondents also had the opportunity to add comments for clarification
purposes and/or to add information that needed further explanation
specific to their campground operations. The survey was posted
on the IU Center
for Policy and Planning Studies Polling Place Web site in
late July, 2005 and was available for completion through September
The survey took no longer than 30 minutes to complete and all submissions
were via the Internet.
The raw data from the online survey were compiled by staff of
the Center for Policy Studies and a report, complete with charts
and graphs was submitted to NCA in December, 2005. Additionally,
an Indiana University Doctoral student conducted further analysis
and cross tabulations of the data.
Two hundred ten (210)) responses were received.
Approximately 40% of the survey respondents were from privately
32% were campgrounds located on federal properties, e.g. US Forest
Service, National Park Service, etc.; 21% were state facilities,
e.g. State Parks and the remainder were locally operated campgrounds,
e.g. county or city government. Geographically, the responses came
from a total of 42 states. Surveys were largely submitted by owners
and or facility managers/administrators. Clearly 72% of the total
responses were completed by top level campground administrators. Of the 210 respondents to the question regarding types of camping
offered, the vast majority include both tent and RV camping as
the primary types. (80% and 84% respectively). Other types of sites
offered included cabins, yurts, condos, trailers and backcountry.
Accessibility at Campgrounds
The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)  is civil
rights legislation for people with disabilities. In other words,
people with disabilities have the right to participate in and take
full advantage of services provided, equal to the services provided
to people without disabilities. The ADA specifically includes places
of recreation as a covered activity. The American’s with
Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines  did not provide adequate
guidelines for campground owners and operators to understand exactly
what their obligations were. In addition, while federal agencies
had been covered by earlier legislation (the Architectural Barriers
Act and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), these laws also did
not provide specific guidance for making recreational venues, including
As a result the U. S. Access Board began developing guidelines
for recreation areas, including campgrounds in the mid 1990’s.
The final report of the Committee recommending campground accessibility
guidelines were published in the fall of 1999. Currently, the guidelines
are awaiting final approvals and enforcement authority from the
U.S. Department of Justice. In the meantime most experts advise
campground operators, whether federal, state or private, to use
the proposed guidelines in designing accessible campsites, since
even though final guidelines are not in place, entities are still
required to insure the inclusion of people with disabilities in
While making physical area and facilities accessible to and usable
by people with disabilities is fairly straightforward, the development
and implementation of policies and administrative practices that
ensure ‘program’ access are sometimes less understood,
but no less important. This study attempted to focus mostly on
the policy and administrative practices that often affect the quality
of the experience for people with
disabilities, and in fact may well discriminate against them. The
following findings provide a glimpse of the current policies and
practices of U.S. campground owners and managers as they relate
to people with disabilities.
Staff resources devoted to insuring access
The degree of accessibility in campgrounds across the United States
is somewhat reflected in the lack of personnel who are assigned
responsibilities to insure that people with disabilities have opportunities
for accessible camping experiences. Of 198 responses, 60% had no
staff resource with accessibility responsibilities. In all, only
10 respondents indicated that they had staff with full time responsibilities
for accessibility and most of those were with State Government,
where it could be assumed that the individual had accessibility
oversight of all campgrounds statewide or that in addition to accessibility
oversight, they also had oversight of all facilities, safety, etc.
Privately owned campgrounds, as might be expected, had the lowest
percentage (14%) of all agencies that designated a person having
any level of accessibility responsibility (part-time or full-time).
Eighty one percent (81%) of the agencies assigned staff do so as
a collateral duty to their other responsibilities. From the comments
received, it appears that many agencies indicating that staff was
assigned to accessibility spent minimal time, or that the responsibilities
were seen as the responsibility of the larger agency, e.g. centralized,
Campground Reservation Systems
Campgrounds used different procedures to accommodate their guests.
Some campgrounds were available on a first come, first served based,
while others used various types and methods of reserving campsites.
The majority of respondents in this study indicated that they did
not require reservations. The chart below shows the reservations
methods by all types of facility and ownership.
State owned and operated campgrounds used a first come first serve
approach to reservations (84%) much more than the others. Privately
owned campgrounds used this approach the least of all types (32%).
As will be discussed later, the reservation system(s) used by campgrounds
can have major implications for accommodating visitors with disabilities.
Prevalence of Accessible Campsites
In response to a question regarding the availability of accessible
campsites, over 80% of all respondents indicated that they had
accessible sites. However, of the privately owned campgrounds,
only 41% indicated that they had accessible sites. More specifically,
the survey asked about the availability of different types of sites
(tent, cabin, and RV). Interestingly, when asked about access in
the specific types of sites, percentages dropped significantly
in state and federal agency responses and increased significantly
in private campground responses. The questions on specific types
of sites (tent, cabin, RV) asked if the entity had the minimum
number of spaces per a table based on the US Access Board’s
Regulatory Negotiations Committee Final Report (1999). For example,
when asked about having the
minimum number of accessible tent camping spaces [of those agencies
offering a tent camping option] only 49% of state owned sites
and 54% of federal sites had the minimum number of recommended
accessible spaces. Conversely, 83% of privately owned campgrounds
who offered tent camping indicated that they had the minimum
number of accessible spaces.
* Data from local agencies were not included because of lack of
participation from local sites on these survey questions.
** Agencies often did not offer one or more of the camping types,
and therefore data is based only on those offering the specific
type of camping
The table above does not seem to match the results of the previous
question that merely asked if the respondent had any accessible
campsites. When asked if they met the minimum number of accessible
spaces based on the proposed Access Board guidelines the percentages
seems to vary widely. One explanation is that percentages could
be skewed due to many respondents not offered one or more of the
types of camping experiences. Another explanation may be a lack
of understanding on ‘what the characteristics of an accessible
space are”; and thirdly it may be that in many cases, there
was not specifically “designed spaces” for accessibility
and entities may well have “perceived” that they had
the minimum number of accessible spaces. This would seem to be
particularly true with the responses to the RV accessible space
question, where 99% of the respondents from state agencies and
100% of all respondents from private campgrounds indicated that
they met the minimum guideline for number of RV accessible spaces.
While the requirements for accessible RV spaces are not considered
by most to be onerous, it is important to note that an accessible
RV space requires more than just a level space wide enough to park
the vehicle. Any and/or all amenities at an accessible RV space
must also be accessible in order for the area to be considered
accessible. That would include an accessible route to
All amenities including the nearest restroom, grills, picnic
tables, electrical hookups and discharge stations. Based on some
of the additional comments provided by many respondents, it is
likely that at least some did not have the knowledge on what
makes up an accessible campsite.
Reservation Policies for Accessible Campsites
Reserving a campsite is a convenience for all campers. It can
be even more important for individuals with disabilities where
there may be a lack of accessible sites. As was discussed earlier,
not all campground owners and operators used any type of a reservation
system. This was particularly true at state owned facilities (state
parks, DNR properties, etc.) where 84% of the survey respondents
indicated that their campgrounds were only available on a first
come, first served basis. All other types of campgrounds used this
method much less often (only 30-39 percent used the first come
option). The survey asked seven separate questions regarding campsite
reservation policies as related the available accessible sites.
A large majority of the campgrounds did not have written reservation
policies for their accessible campsites. Of the 160 sites responding
to this question, only 44 (28%) indicated that they had a written
policy. State owned facilities (68%) had the highest percentage
of written reservation policies on accessible campsites and privately
owned facilities had the
lowest (12%). Of those indicating that they had a written policy,
84% indicated that the policy was readily available to the public.
When asked about their policy regarding holding accessible campsites
for persons with disabilities, many campgrounds (41%) did not hold
accessible sites at all. 27% hold the accessible site until the
published check-in time and 11% held the accessible sites exclusively
for people with disabilities.
This question elicited over 30 additional narrative comments.
Since the answers to this question were central to the purpose
of this study, all comments associated with this question are included
in Appendix II.
In general, comments amplified on the specific campground policy
on holding (or not) accessible camp sites. Many of the comments
revealed the acknowledgement by campground operators of the need
some type of safe haven for those with disabilities. Of the 30
comments received, 25 indicate that accessible sites were reserved
or held on some basis or that all of their sites were accessible.
Since many campgrounds did not require reservations, investigators
also wanted to know what, if any, action is taken when campers
with disabilities arrive and no accessible campsites are available.
The questionnaire provided three choices as well as an opportunity
(Other) to add comments. This question elicited by far the greatest
number of written comments (76). Of the 149 responses to this question,
35% of the respondents indicated that campers without disabilities
are asked to relocate to a non-accessible site. Fourteen percent
(14%) indicated that the person with a disability is told that
they must wait until an accessible site becomes available. The
comments accompanying this question are substantial and are included
in Appendix III. It is interesting to note that there are several
comments to this question, as well as the previous one that state
that “all or the majority of sites are accessible” or
that it has not been an issue. In reading the responses, it is
apparent that many of the respondents may not be familiar with
the proposed accessibility standards for campsites. It appears
that many assume that a level campsite or a hardened RV camping
surface makes the site ‘handicap’ accessible. It is
also interesting to note that it appears that most respondents
have a positive attitude about accommodating people with disabilities
and are willing to assist all of their campers when needed. Comments
like “we will attempt to find a campsite that will match
the needs of the camper”… and “we would try to
make all parties happy…” attest to this attitude. Many
simply indicated that this has never been a problem and that not
many people with disabilities had used their campground or if they
had, they had not requested specific accommodations.
The final question regarding what actions the campground operator
takes focused on the issue of when campers without disabilities
are asked to relocate from an accessible site, i.e. when are they
informed? Most respondents marked this one not applicable. Of 154
responses to this question, 80 or 52% indicated that the question
was not applicable. Only 26% indicated that they informed those
who were requested to move only when the situation occurs; 14%
indicated that they informed campers of this possibility upon check-in
and 3% indicated that it was part of the reservation procedure.
There were only 8 comments to this question, and it is clear that
campground operator did not see this as a major issue or problem.
Construction dates and Accessibility Guidelines used
The research team was also interested in determining the approximate
time period when their accessible campsites were constructed.
Over 50% of the campground operators surveyed indicated that their
accessible spaces were constructed prior to 1999, and 38% after
2000. Since the proposed accessibility guidelines for campgrounds
were not available until the fall of 1999, investigators then wanted
to know which guidelines were used by entities to construct their
accessible campsites after the year 2000.
Of those responding to this question, the choices were:
- Americans with
Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)
- Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS)
- Outdoor Developed Areas Report (ODA)
- State Accessibility Codes
The following graph shows the responses regarding which of these
guidelines were used in design/construction of accessible camp
The fact that more campground owners/operators used ADAAG for
designing and constructing campgrounds after 2000 than other standards
would lead one to believe that many were not familiar with the
ODA guideline recommendations, and/or were advised to use other
standards that are already enforceable. In fact, only one private
campground used the ODA guidelines. As would be expected, federal
and state agencies referenced the ODA guidelines the most, but
they also used ADAAG more often than any other standard or guideline.
Federal agencies were split in frequency of using ADAAG and UFAS
as the standard used most often when designing campgrounds. Those
indicating “Other” for the most part, were not aware
of which guidelines were used or were not familiar with accessibility
Location of accessible campsites and facilities
Eighty nine percent (89%) of the survey respondents stated that
they have accessible restrooms and 80% indicate that they had an
accessible path from the accessible campsite to the accessible
The quality of the camping experience is obviously dependent upon
the desired experience and expectation of those staying at campgrounds.
Some campers want isolation, some want socialization. Some want
primitive experiences and some want convenience and access to campground
improvements (e.g. electricity, tables, grills, restrooms, laundry
facilities, etc.). Campers with disabilities can be expected to
have the same types of expectations as others and will seek campgrounds
and individual campsites that most closely meet those desires.
As with those without disabilities, some campers with disabilities
will prefer a campsite that is located close to restroom facilities
and other improvements, others will not. One of the primary tenets
of the American’s with Disabilities Act was to provide the
same opportunities for people with disabilities as those without.
It really comes down to choice. While some folks with disabilities
may prefer to use pit toilets, as an example, others will want
to be able to use the more modern facilities, if they are provided.
In order to provide ‘choice’ campgrounds should have
sites accessible for people with disabilities that provide a full
range of choice as those without disabilities have.
On a question regarding how campgrounds located their various
accessible campsites, 33% of the respondents indicated that they
group the accessible campsites in the same location. It is likely
in these campgrounds, campers with disabilities would not have
the full range of choice as campers without disabilities. On a
question asking what percentage of accessible campsites are located
within 500 feet of a comfort station or restroom, 61% of the respondents
indicated that ALL of their accessible sites were located within
500 feet. Only 3% state that none of their accessible sites are
located within 500 feet of a restroom or comfort station. Thirty-five
percent (35%) indicated that 50%, more or less, of their accessible
sites are within 500 feet of a restroom. This latter percentage
is probably most desirable as it would indicate that the accessible
campsites might provide a variety of experiences. In fact, a question
asking about dispersion of accessible campsites (i.e. located throughout
the park offering a variety of camping experiences such as lake
view, wooded view, sun, shade) only 20% of the respondents indicated
that they did not have that type of dispersion.
Forty one percent (41%) of the respondents stated that they provided
discounted campground fees to campers with disabilities. Sixty-five
per cent (65%) of the federal agency respondents indicated that
they provided discounts to visitors with disabilities. These are
largely made up of the federal government’s Golden Access
Passport program. Conversely only 6% of the private campgrounds
offered discounts. On the question of why do you provide discounts
(for those responding yes) the largest number indicate that they
do it for good public relations followed by “to attract campers
with disabilities to the campground. The percent discount averaged
just below 50%.
Visitors with Visual, hearing and speech Impairments
Finally, several questions were asked regarding accessibility
considerations for individuals with visual and hearing impairments.
The following chart represents the percentages of services provided
to people with visual impairments.
As can be seen in the chart, almost 80% of the respondents did
not have printed or auditory literature available to assist visitors
with visual impairments. However, it is unclear how many of those
surveyed have printed literature at all.
As for campers who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired,
of those campgrounds that offer phone in registrations, only 28%
had a TTY to accept phone reservations from these visitors.
When asked about emergency procedures or policies related to informing
people with disabilities, 60% indicated that they did not have
an emergency plan in place to inform people with disabilities in
case of emergency such as a
natural disaster. Comments about this question, however, indicated
that all campers would be notified, including those with disabilities.
By far the most frequently mentioned way of informing campers of
an emergency was for staff to go around to each campsite (67%).
Many of the other campgrounds did not have staff available and
therefore there was no system for informing any camper of an emergency.
Finally, when asked about training for staff related to accessibility,
less than 30% of the respondents provided any type of training
related to disability or accessibility.
Conclusions and Summary
While not all responses to this survey are conclusive, the analysis
of the data shows that, in general:
- Campground owners and operators, even at the administrative
levels, are not familiar with guidelines for making campgrounds
- Campground operators seem to equate accessibility with restrooms
and parking spaces. As is evidenced in the responses to the RV
camping spaces would lead one to believe that all components and
amenities that make up accessible campsites may not be considered.
- There is little evidence that campground operators are making
any accommodations for those with auditory, speech and visual disabilities.
- There appears to be a lack of understanding of the implications
of lack of policies related to campground accessibility, including
methods and systems for reservations, training, etc.
- There has been little demand for accessible camping sites by
people with disabilities thus resulting in an apparent lack of
focus on accessibility by campground owners and operators. The
lack of demand by people with disabilities is always an interesting
observation. It really raises more questions. Is the lack of demand
due to lack of interest in these types of experiences or is lack
of demand an indication that people with disabilities realize that
campgrounds are not accessible and therefore do not participate
in camping experiences as much as those without disabilities.
- Campground owners in general, seem very receptive to including
people with disabilities in their campgrounds and to making whatever
accommodations are necessary to insure that they have a positive
While there were some limitations in the design of the study, the results would
seem to indicate overall that campgrounds have much to do in making their sites,
facilities, and programs accessible. A follow up to this study is under consideration
and needed to focus on camping experiences, observations, practices, and issues
that people with disabilities have when visiting campgrounds in the United States.
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