In North America, 1 in 4 U.S. citizens has a disability. In Canada, the ratio is 1 of 5. A segment of the disabled community has enjoyed the RV lifestyle for decades. It’s only in the past 15 years that the RV industry has found a way to offer wheelchair-friendly RVs in various categories giving disabled RVers new ways to experience the camping lifestyle.
By now, most of the RV community knows about the Class A wheelchair-accessible RVs from Newmar and Winnebago. Some others in Class B motorhome and towable categories are more affordable and give disabled campers a different RV experience. We’ll show you what a wheelchair-friendly RV is and how the ADA standards are involved.
You’ll see some great examples of the best affordable wheelchair-friendly RVs that won’t affect your budget. If you are interested in the Class A motorhomes, we’ll discuss the Winnebago Accessibility Enhanced program, their motor coaches, and Newmar’s motorhomes.
What Is a Wheelchair-Friendly RV?
Wheelchair-friendly RVs include features that give disabled individuals the ability to enjoy independent RV living. These travel trailers and motorhomes have amenities that focus on using a wheelchair inside; some manufacturers go further with components that support various medical equipment and conditions.
Popular features in RVs for the disabled include:
- Wheelchair lifts
- Cabinetry and countertops at wheelchair levels
- Control panels and instrumentation at reachable heights
- Wheelchair accessible bathrooms
- Built-in grab bars
- Additional and upgraded electrical outlets
- Upgraded generators
- Optional oxygen lines and ports through the interior
- Optional roof hammock track systems
- Hand control driving equipment
- Increased storage
- Increased holding tank capacities
RV manufacturers build these ADA-compliant RVs not only for vacations but for boondocking situations as well. Disabled camper families may spend a significant amount of time parked in hospital parking lots as their loved one receives treatment for their condition. To reduce costs, the RV allows the family to stay close and save money for the essentials. Even with hospital discounts, hotels and dining expenses add up quickly.
Camper trailers for disabled RVers make camping possible. There are temperature-sensitive medications, electronic medical equipment, and other requirements people need for daily life. Planning for the unexpected takes on a whole new meaning in the disabled community. Having a full-amenity RV gives everyone peace of mind knowing they have everything ready.
Are RVs ADA Certified?
In 1990, George H.W. Bush (commonly referred to as George Bush Sr.) signed the American Disabilities Act (ADA) into federal law. The Act prohibited discrimination against the disabled community in the United States. Title III requires all public structures and gathering areas (like public parks) have equal access for everyone. That’s why you’ll see ramps, minimum space requirements for elevators, and other standards in public areas.
You won’t see any RVs ADA certified because they don’t fall within the jurisdiction of the ADA’s public structure limitations. What you will find is that motorhomes and travel trailers can be ADA compliant. At the RV manufacturer’s own expense, they’ll have an inspector walk through a prototype and look over the designs.
If all the features and amenities meet the ADA standards, the RV company will receive a signed letter stating that it meets the ADA’s expectations. The letter allows the company to make statements and advertise their products using the word “compliant” and gives them a building code to work.
Some people feel that the ADA should add an amendment to include RVs. The industry generally disagrees. If the ADA RV manufacturers had to comply entirely with the Act, it would limit their flexibility to cater to individual needs. Every person’s disability is unique; manufacturers want to continue to give their customers the option to design the coach to their individual needs rather than make a one-size-fits-all.
The Best Non-Class A Wheelchair-Friendly RVs
That’s right; we said non-Class A motorhomes. While Winnebago and Newmar are getting top-billing, there are other RVs on the market that gives disabled RVers affordable alternatives and different ways to enjoy the RV lifestyle.
Droplet Trailer: The Perfect Teardrop for Wheelchair Users
|Dry Weight||950 Pounds|
You wouldn’t think a teardrop camper would be wheelchair-friendly for RVers. When Pascal Pillon, the designer, and founder of the company, made the camper for himself, he wanted a comfortable coach. After partnering with RAD, an organization that helps the disabled community enjoy outdoor recreational activities, Droplet Trailer realized their teardrop trailer could reach a whole new audience.
The Flexride torsion axles make the Droplet Trailer a low rider. The wheelchair-accessible kitchen is fully reachable, allowing everyone to prepare meals and grab dishware from backsplash-mounted baskets. If you want to take your meal with you, the electric cooler and solar generator, which acts as the RV’s power source, are removable, so you can keep medication and equipment powered.
When it’s time to retire for the evening, you’ll find transferring from your wheelchair to the camper an easy process. Since the average wheelchair height is 19-inches, moving from the chair to the six-inch memory foam mattress is a level process. The doors on both sides are extra wide and tall, so getting yourself into position, even if you need assistance, doesn’t require a high-level of acrobatics.
Best of all, if you’re having a bad medical day, you can still enjoy the great outdoors. The front cap picture window allows you to see the scenery, and the side vents let you hear it all. For privacy, the front and door windows have a bronze tint that also acts as the RV’s sunglasses against direct sunlight. Inside or out, the Droplet trailer allows you to participate in the camping experience.
Droplet Trailer (Video)
Harbor View 28CKRB: The ADA Compliant Towable With a Lift
|Dry Weight||7,240 Pounds|
In 1986 HL Enterprises opened its doors in Elkhart, Indiana. The Harbor View subsidiary brand exclusively makes camper trailers for disabled RVers. The company offers mid-size to full-length travel trailers that range from 28-38 feet with dry weights between 6,600- 8,000 pounds. Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR) are just north of 10,000 pounds, so a tow vehicle like the Ford F-250 would be ideal.
The ADA-compliant RV manufacturer has seven different wheelchair-friendly floorplans that are either couple or family-focused. The wheelchair lift, roll-in shower, and wide center aisle are standard features. New buyers work with sales representatives to adjust the features based on their specific needs.
The 28CKRB is a rear bath travel trailer with a full-size front bed. The wheelchair lift sits between the main LED TV and refrigerator. The back entry door leads into the bathroom, making it a mudroom for the rest of the family.
Even on flare-up days, the whole family can enjoy their favorite movie since everyone can see the TV from the living room and master bedroom. The mid-coach slideout holds a hid-a-bed and convertible dinette, adding floor space and additional sleeping in the wheelchair RV.
To complete the independent RV living experience, Harbor View places a microwave under the three-burner stove. With the kitchen and storage space accessible, there’s no reason why you can’t try out those RV cooking recipes you’ve always wanted to try. If it doesn’t work out, every campground has a pizza delivery advertisement in their paperwork.
Harbor View Travel Trailer (Video)
Sportsmobile: Wheelchair Accessible Off-Road Campervans; Yeah, They Got ‘Em
|Chassis||Ford Transit 350|
|Gas Engine||Ford EcoBoost 3.5L V6- 271 hp @ 260 lb./ft.|
|Diesel Engine||Ford EcoBlue 2.0L Inline 4 Turbo- 210 hp @ 369 lb./ft.|
|Length||19.8 (EB) or 22.2 (LB) Feet|
Hippie mobiles, surfer vans, and those shag-carpeted player rides; the Volkswagon Kombi Bus became a legendary pop counter-culture icon in the 1960s and 1970s. Did you know that a U.S. company converted most of them? Since 1961, Sportsmobile has kept the Class B campervan category alive and well in America.
Today, the company creates customized Class B RVs, including motorhomes for disabled RVing. You can start with your favorite platform; E-450, ProMaster, Sprinter, or Transit. Their representatives will help you find the best wheelchair lift for your needs and design the motorcoach that works for you.
In the disabled community, a preconceived notion is to keep wheelchair users landlocked on developed land and pavement. While there are safety considerations to consider, the same people forget about the desire to make your own road. Sportsmobile partnered with Quigley 4×4 to create an all-wheel-drive off-road campervan on the Ford Transit Chassis.
Even with a mobility-challenged disability, a wheelchair-accessible RV with the proper equipment will give your the freedom to defeat trails most wouldn’t have the nerve to face. The best part, watching all of their jaws drop as you tell them what you did over your vacation.
Converting Your Existing RV: Adapting Your Coach to Lifestyle
[photo of motorhome with retrofit wheelchair lift]
Is it worth buying a new RV if your mobility needs change? An RV lifespan is 20 years, and most owners keep their coach for eight years or longer. The word “Disability” has a broad definition. It can mean someone who needs a little extra help to someone entirely dependent on medical treatment.
For those that need a wheelchair outside the RV, but are okay inside the coach, adding a wheelchair lift to your existing travel trailer or motorhome might be the best mobility solution. A significant portion of mobility companies can convert your Class A motorhome, travel trailer, or fifth wheel into an affordable wheelchair-friendly RV.
To make the space, you will lose a feature inside your RV, but the mobility company’s representative can discuss this in detail with you. For example, on the current Fleetwood Pace Arrow 33D, between the co-pilot chair and the main entry sits a three-seater sofa. To add a wheelchair lift, the mobility company will have to take the couch out, so there’s enough room to enter from the lift.
Wheelchair lifts are heavy, so installing them on slideouts is impossible. Besides lifts, companies like these can also reconfigure bathrooms, cabinetry, driving hand controls, and other equipment to make disabled RVing comfortable for your new lifestyle.
The Winnebago Outdoors Family of Accessibility Enhanced Class A Motorhomes
When Winnebago brought Newmar into its corporate governance, the RV brand gained Newmar’s disabled RV innovations. Instead of competing against itself, the Flying W took a new approach never seen before in the industry.
What Is Winnebago’s Accessibility Enhanced Program?
Winnebago’s Accessibility Enhanced (AE) program has the diesel Inspire and a specific AE layout for the Adventurer gasser. At first, the RV starts with a lift, accessible bathroom, and a wide center aisle. The cabinetry and other features are at standard levels.
When prospective customers approach an authorized RV dealer that sells Winnebago wheelchair-accessible RVs, it’s a two-phase process. The dealer walks the customer through a model and discusses the possibilities. If there is a commitment to buy, the customer is assigned a Winnebago AE councilor in Iowa to go over the details.
Through a video or phone call, the counselor learns about the family’s specific needs and suggests changes. Those changes could include swapping out standard level cabinets for wheelchair level versions. If the customer needs oxygen, they can plumb lines throughout the RV. The counselors can add grab bars anywhere on the RV. Virtually any feature is changeable to accommodate medical equipment.
Overall, pricing effects occur reasonably, but you’ll know your disabled loved one will have an RV experience tailored to their needs by the end of the conversation.
Winnebago Inspire 34AE: A Class a Specifically For the AE Program
|Engine||Cummins ISB 6.7L Inline 6- 340 hp @ 700 lb./ft.|
When the AE program first started, Winnie offered the ADA-compliant RVs in the Forza, Intent, and Adventurer. With a few years of success, the company realized having one diesel and gasser motorhome would fit their disabled RVer customer’s needs. The Inspire is specifically for the AE program. Winnebago took the best features from the Forza and Intent and placed it in this 34-foot diesel motorhome.
With the rear master bed in the corner, there’s ample room to maneuver in the bedroom. Transferring from your wheelchair to the bed won’t be a problem since it sits close to the average wheelchair height.
The all-in-one bathroom is the first of its kind in the wheelchair-accessible RV sector. Winnie creates a private space to go through your morning ritual without the worry of anyone invading. In a life that deals with dependence, the designers empathize with your desire for dignity.
Eating together can be a challenge. The dream dinette not only adjusts up and down, but it also extends out. Making the table come to you will seem strange at first. Still, when you realize your focus is on the conversation, not the mess on your lap, you’ll have that spontaneous idea of going full-time (by the way, it isn’t crazy, and moments like that are how the majority of full-timers become inspired).
Winnebago Inspire (Video)
Newmar Canyon Star 3911: The First Wheelchair-Friendly Gasser
|Engine||Ford Godzilla 7.3L V8- 425 hp @ 475 lb./ft.|
Newmar’s Canyon Star was the first wheelchair-friendly gasser to hit the modern roads. When the company launched the disabled RVs, the diesel Ventana and Dutch Star were the other choices. Today, the list includes the reintroduced Kountry Star, Bay Star, and Front Engine Diesel (FRED) Canyon Star.
Newmar offers a wheelchair-friendly floorplan in five of its models. Except for a closet space variation, the layout is identical. The rear queen bed expands out, giving an ocean of space in front and on the bathroom-facing end to make full use of the wardrobe system.
The bathroom space has a pocket door to close off the room. The shower has a wide padded bench making the experience painless. There are plenty of standard feature grab bars; rest assured, the team can put something essential like additional grab bars in place during construction.
The dining table sits on an electronic arm that’s fully adjustable. During setup, the control panel is at a reachable level, so you can open the slideouts, watch the tanks, and other operations. If you want to maximize the use of the closet opposite the wheelchair lift, a combo washer/dryer will fit well inside, and the piping is ready and waiting. There will be plenty of room for additional bedding, linens, clothing, or various supplies.
Newmar Canyon Star 3911 Motorhome (Video)
Is It Practical to Live in an RV With a Disability?
As we’ve shown, the RV lifestyle is possible for everyone, but only you can decide if it’s realistic. If you live with a disability and think of getting an RV, we recommend consulting your medical professionals first. Your doctor and medical team have the training and know your condition well enough to help prepare you for your RV trip and the essentials you’ll need to bring.
A significant factor many in the disabled community face is the added expense of medical bills. It was the primary motivation for this article. We wanted to show you affordable wheelchair-friendly RVs that won’t affect your budget. The only way people understand the financial stresses disabled individuals face is when they go through it themselves. Even then, the words “fully paid” can seem like a pipe dream.
If you want an RV experience but aren’t ready to commit to buying one of your own, there are wheelchair-accessible RV rentals available through many peer-to-peer companies. Websites like Outdoorsy, RV-Ezy, and RVshare have a wide selection nationwide. You can search in your local area. Droplet Trailer has an internal rental program too.
People with disabilities own these RVs. When you rent these coaches, you’re renting from someone who knows what you’re going through. When you meet up, they give you a thorough walk-through showing you how to operate everything, even the medical equipment, if you need it. Renting is very affordable and allows you to try out the many different categories.
Don’t forget to check out the RV Troop website for the latest RV models, accessories, tips, and trends. We’ll show you buying strategies to help you save thousands. If you’re looking to turn your wheelchair lift van into a DIY campervan, get some great ideas from our Class B motorhome or stealth campervan articles. If you want to learn more about the RV world generally, become an RV Trooper by often checking our website for the latest updates.
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