Traveling in an RV opens up the world to people with mobility issues or in wheelchairs
I love to travel! When I was young my mother and father would load all four kids into our old car ,it’s roof piled high with a tent ,sleeping bags, coolers ,folding chairs and lots of other junk , for a week or two of camping in the woods or at the beach.
My husband ,Tony , came from a non-traveling family. They didn’t even have a car! However when he bought his first car he found that he loved to drive. We were a perfect match! I ‘d had enough of tent camping , with all the hassle of setting up a bulky tent and huddling in the rain while sopping up leaks that still managed to soak the edges of the sleeping bags so our first real traveling vehicle was a Volkswagen , a Vanagon with a camping interior by Westfalia.
Over the next twenty years that van along with several others , a pickup truck with a shell and even bicycles loaded down with camping equipment , took us and our daughter on adventures all across the U.S. By the time our daughter was twenty years old and half way through college we were ready for a big adventure - fulltime RVing! We sold our house and everything in it and bought a small class C motorhome.
Our plans were to live off of our savings , get temporary jobs , volunteer and work camp as needed. These plans were shattered when only five months into our travels I was involved in a freak hot air balloon accident which broke my back and left me a paraplegic. We weren’t willing to give up our dream of traveling and fortunately the company that manufactured our first motorhome was able to build another motorhome for us with the all changes that I needed to live comfortably in a small space.
The first and most important thing to consider when making a RV accessible is , of course, some type of lift. Most RV entrance doors are too narrow for wheelchair access so a wider door is a must. I use a SuperArm lift but many other types of lifts are available for RVs including slings , standing lifts and the wheel-on type used by public transport vehicles. Typically the living area of a RV has a narrow passageway to allow for plenty of seating and storage.
By eliminating some of the seating and storage the interior can be opened up to allow a wheelchair a full turning radius and access to all of the components. The bathroom can be configured in any way to best suit your needs. I can transfer fairly easily so not many changes were needed in the bathroom in our RV. The door and part of a wall were removed and a folding door was installed in it’s place. I have a raised toilet seat with legs and a bench for the shower. If needed a RV can be equipped with a wheel-in shower and ceiling track lift systems.
Unless you buy a really huge RV all of the furnishing are scaled down. The counters are lower and not as deep as traditional house counters. The stove top is more compact and the refrigerator isn’t as deep making everything much easier to use. Most RV manufacturers do little custom work. If you want to change anything it has to be done by another company after the RV is completed. However there are a few manufacturers who will work with you to make an accessible RV. Winnebago has a division for Ability Equipped motorhomes. They will build either a Class A or a Class C motorhome to your specifications.
Newmar just came out with a wheelchair accessible floor plan in their Canyon Star model. Born Free’s Dodgen division will build a Class C to your specs. A couple of manufacturers, North American RV and Freedom Traveler, will build towable RVs with any changes that you need to make them accessible. Buying a used RV can save quite a bit of money. This website is a very good source for used RVs that have been converted to be more accessible.
When you start shopping for a RV consider how you want to use it -smaller if you’ll be using it as a traveling hotel room, larger if you plan on driving to a vacation spot and staying put of awhile. The best places to check out all of the manufactures, models and types of RVs are RV shows and dealers. Unfortunately most RVs will not be at all accessible so using the internet to see the floor plans will probably be the best way to make a decision. You‘ll want to measure all of the clearances to make sure that you’ll be able to turn around and transfer in the spaces that will be available after modifications.
An RV can give anyone an incredible amount of freedom but it’s especially freeing for people with mobility issues. We don’t have to worry about inaccessible hotel rooms or dirty public restrooms. Most of the time when we visit family and friends we can park and sleep right in their driveway. Traveling can be very leisurely because there’s always a campground or a parking lot where we can spend the night.
One of the best things is the ability to get out into nature where there aren’t any hotel ,cabins or sometimes not even campgrounds. In the course of almost twenty years of fulltime Rving , we've crossed the U.S. many times , driven to Alaska three times and visited most of the Canadian provinces but unfortunately I haven’t kept any type of records. I started a blog late in 2010 specifically to highlight wheelchair access at the places that we visit so check it out if you're curious about RVing. Also feel free to ask questions about RVing , the places that we've visited( even if you can't find them on the blog - we visited many different places over the years ) or anything else!