An accessible RV can open a whole new world of travel and adventure for people with mobility problems. RV traveling has many advantages including an always available, clean, accessible bathroom; a comfortable bed for middle-of-the-day breaks; the opportunity to prepare and eat your own food (good if you require a special diet); a place to stay where there aren’t available hotels and an end to the hassle of carting everything from a vehicle to a hotel room. The major disadvantage is the large size of an RV. Choosing routes and parking spots requires a little more planning. Finding the right RV and equipment involves a bit of research and experimentation.
There are four basic types of RVs – class As which look like buses, class Bs which look like fancy vans, class Cs which have a sleeping bunk over the vehicle cab, and trailers. Larger trailers, also known as fifth wheels, require a full-size pickup for towing and have steps up to the master bedroom. Since all trailers are rather complicated to hook up to the tow vehicle, I wouldn’t recommend them for someone who uses a wheelchair. Class B is usually too cramped inside with little room to maneuver a wheelchair. That leaves class As and Class Cs.
A class can be a huge luxurious home on a commercial bus chassis with a million dollar price tag or a much more modest model on a Workhorse or Ford chassis for under $100,000. Buying used saves a big chunk of money. Class As usually have a bedroom in the rear section, a living area in the front, and a kitchen in between. The cab seats swivel around to become living area seating. The floor is all on one level.
Many class C motorhomes have a queen-sized bunk over the cab but this area can also house an entertainment center. The floor plan is similar to class As but the front seat does not swivel and there is a step down to the driver and passenger seats.
Making an RV Accessible
All RVs contain everything that you need to live comfortably – a kitchen, a full bathroom, bed, dinette, furnace, air conditioner – a small but complete house. However, a typical RV presents many obstacles for a wheelchair user starting with the entry door. Entry doors are only 24”- 28” so an accessible RV will need to have a larger door installed. A standard lift can be used but I prefer a Super Arm lift because it leaves the steps in place and doorway usable for able-bodied people.
The inside can be changed and designed to be accessible with some of the same features found in houses such as roll-in showers, grab bars, adjustable beds, and ceiling tracks. Some other accessible features that might be more unique to an RV are remote control window blinds, remote control vent fans, and sofa beds that open electrically. Many of the components in RVs are scaled down which makes them easier to use from a seated position. I can easily access the entire refrigerator, the stove top, and the kitchen sink.
Buying an RV
Before buying an RV consider how you will be using it. If you plan on staying in a park for long periods of time a larger RV is probably best. You’ll also want an accessible vehicle that can be towed behind the RV. If you travel more a smaller RV without a separate towed vehicle may be a better choice.
My husband and I are full-time RVers and wanted a fairly specialized RV so we had one custom-made. It’s a small 25’ class C built on a four-wheel drive truck chassis with solar panels and large water tanks. This allows us to camp in the forest instead of relying on crowded campgrounds. To make it accessible for me and my wheelchair we had a wide entrance door and Super Arm lift installed. Our dinette seats one person. The opposite side is left open so that I can pull up to the table in my chair. We have a folding door in place of one bathroom wall and grab bars and a chair in the shower.
There are a few companies that will work with customers and make an RV that fits their needs. I recommend Winnebago if you prefer a class A and Born Free if you prefer a class C. Born Free Class C RVs are a little different than a typical C because they’re all one level and the passenger seat swivels to allow an easy transfer to and from a wheelchair. Buying new can be quite expensive but fortunately, there are used accessible RVs available. This site usually has a good selection. New listings are added often so check back if you don’t find anything suitable.
I hope to be adding more articles about accessible RV traveling. If you’d like to know more about us, our RV, and our travels please check my blog – rollinginarv-wheelchairtraveling.blogspot.com/