A first glance at the operations of a typical dude ranch might lead one to presume that persons with disabilities were not welcomed or capable of being served on the ranch. How do you send a wheelchair bound cowboy out on a trail ride, round-up or another ranch adventure activity? Most dude ranches also have buildings and structures that pre-date the American Disabilities Act. They were not constructed with even the first thought to the handicapped populace and frankly, were not even capable of being visited except by those who could endure a long trail ride or wagon ride to reach the facility.
Fast forward to today’s culture of handicapped inclusions, active lifestyles, and vast library of case law and civil rights legislation and we find a clear call to action for making each and every part of society as accessible to the disabled as possible.
California’s dude ranch, Marble Mountain Ranch, traces it’s origins to an 1860 hydraulic mining operation that was accessible only by foot or extended horseback ride through heavily forested mountain terrain via game trails and aboriginal trail systems. The ranch we purchased 22 years ago had paved road access, but it had 24″ – 30” door openings, convoluted stair access points, and generally the most non-inviting ambiance for a disabled person that could be imagined.
The first thoughts we gave to this ADA compliance conundrum were admittedly based on searching for exclusions for our facility based on size, historic construction and other “outs”. How were we supposed to serve wheelchair bound clients with a service that had substantial inherent risk, minimum health requirements for participants, and participant size constraints?
The 1991 ADAAG required owner/operators to immediately make reasonable efforts to remove barriers, “when it was readily achievable to do so, unless the modification would create an undue burden.” This trigger was highly subjective.
Ultimately we took the proverbial “high road” and began to prescribe the elements of the American Disabilities Act to every single remodel project that was within reason. Each new door installed was wheelchair passable, each new cabin began to show sink heights appropriate for the handicapped, and grab bars began to be installed at existing showers and tubs, etc.
Our precursor business model for Marble Mountain Ranch was a stand-alone rafting company, and we arrived at the start-up for the ranch with considerable experience in taking handicapped populations on class III and even some class IV rafting trips. We fondly recall rafting trips targeting large groups of children from the oncology outreach of the Sturhan Foundation and “Camp OKIZU”
The Dude Ranch industry is not ever going to be an easy match in service to the handicapped public. However, here are some observations in our attempts to meet this disabled persons need in service to the larger public.
Marketing! Marketing! And more Marketing! Almost every larger extended family group visiting Marble Mountain Ranch has had at least one family member with some sort of disability. We also see smaller family units that intentionally target participatory holidays to enrich the lives of their handicapped family members. We have served wheelchair limited persons, autistic family members, delayed learners, the vision impaired, and more. Where we can imagine a way to fit the handicapped service within the bounds of our risk management boundaries, we have done it. If dude ranches have any hope of closing the sale for larger family bookings, they are going to compete with the facilities that can comfortably accommodate the needs of the entire group, including those handicapped persons.
This is free market pressure at it’s finest. If you accurately meet the needs of the public, you will likely prosper. You might also feel fulfilled in your efforts at pursuing compassionate capitalism. Is there a better business practice than that which reaches higher than the profit margin to enlarge the human experience and to lift those who are in need?
We welcome all wheelchair cowboys to Marble Mountain Ranch, and plan to continue our efforts to include the disabled population. For 2016 this will be accomplished by adding additional access ramps at cabins and common areas and by starting a riding program that is aimed at the disabled.