Mobility impairment is one of life’s biggest game-changers. If it happens to you, rest assured that RVing with disabilities is achievable and enjoyable. These tenacious Escapees have done it for years, and will show you how to feed the explorer in your heart to live your RV dreams.
Rolling with Life’s Surprises
Fifty-two years ago, when Al and Sharon (SKPs #86865) picked their honeymoon destination, they weren’t interested in typical newlywed getaways like Mexico or Hawaii. Instead, they packed up their four-wheel-drive Suburban with camping gear and headed to Big Bend National Park. Rugged and equipped for adventure in that old SUV, they kicked off a lifetime of exploring North America. “We could go just about anywhere we decided to go,” says Sharon. “And we still do!”
Like many former tent campers, they got hooked on RVing and never looked back. Two kids and a half-century later, they’re still roaming despite Sharon’s debilitating osteoarthritis and neuropathy, conditions that pose accessibility challenges on the road. Her health issues began around 2006 when Al retired from IBM and they started full-time RVing.
They now have a home base in Texas, but the intrepid travelers still spend much of the year on the move in their handicapped-accessible motorhome with a mobility scooter in tow. When asked if she’s ever considered her impairments inconvenient enough to give up the nomadic lifestyle, Sharon gasps.
“No! There’s no real reason for me to feel that way. Yes, I have arthritis from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes. And yes, it hurts, and I have problems moving . . . I don’t go on the hikes anymore, that is a frustration. But then, you don’t get everything you want in life,” she explains. “You take what you can get and should be happy with it.”
Living on Life’s Terms
Patrick and Colleen Lang (SKPS #151470) lived in Madison, Wisconsin, when they got the bad news. Colleen was diagnosed with Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA), a progressive, degenerative, and often fatal genetic disease that would slowly steal her ability to speak and walk. The prognosis was grim, but they refused to let life come to a screeching halt.
Undaunted by whatever the future held and tired of the grinding workday lifestyle that drained their energy, this couple went full speed ahead to kick off a full-time RVing dream. “We knew we had a limited amount of time to do what we’re doing. We do it now or we don’t do it,” Patrick recalls.
They quickly flew their comfortable suburban nest, and like any new RVers, Colleen and Patrick had to learn the ropes of full-timing. Along the way, they discovered the impact of the lifestyle on their mental and physical health. Driving days aren’t always smooth or easy, but despite the challenges, both feel happy with the decision to full-time over two years ago. “We have a lot of fun doing the things we do. We love getting out and it reminds me that we need to be seen,” writes Colleen.
Easy Mods for RVing with Disabilities
These couples’ travels prove that RVing with disabilities is possible. But a few simple interior modifications are necessary to make life on the road safer and more comfortable. The extent of the mods depends on one’s mobility needs both now and in the future.
For example, Sharon is ambulatory but still requires mobility devices to get around inside and outside the RV. She may need more later, but for now, those handicapped RV retrofits are still relatively simple and quick for Al to implement. The crafty retired IBM hardware technician has created a total of three accessible RVs since they started traveling, all only requiring a few simple hardware installations.
“So much of accommodations needed are dependent on the specific needs of the mobility impaired,” says Al. One of the first mods he completed in their original motorhome was installing grab bars throughout the RV. Next, he added a platform lift to help Sharon get inside. A few years later when they transitioned to a larger coach and Sharon needed more assistance getting inside, he installed a doorway lift with a captain’s chair.
The riser proved so useful that he relocated it to their current RV, a 36-foot diesel pusher. Once inside the motorhome, Sharon uses a narrow four-wheel walker to move around. When they leave to go sightseeing, her mobility scooter goes inside the bed of their truck toad, ready for adventure. “Al has made it as easy as he can for me,” she says with pride. “He’s really capable of doing just about anything he wants to do.”
Sharon demonstrates how the lift Al installed helps her get in and out of their RV.
Customizing an Accessible RV
When an RVer with impairments needs more than grab bars inside the rig, customized accessible RVs are available from a variety of adaptive RV designers who can tailor the interiors to an individual’s needs. From heavy-duty towable manufacturers like Dunesport to Newmar’s luxurious adaptive coaches, there’s an accessible rig for every price point.
The Langs turned to Dunesport in Mesa, Arizona, a custom towable manufacturer. Patrick helped the designers create an affordable, accessible RV that could accommodate Colleen’s mobility challenges as they evolved yet feel like home. “It’s amazing! It’s huge and not what you would think an RV would have,” she says.
The trailer is so comfortable they have no plans to stop traveling anytime soon. “They designed the rig with accessibility in mind, from the bedroom to the garage in back, so we are able to get in with a narrow wheelchair,” says Patrick. Other modifications include:
- Three-foot wide entry doorways
- A wheelchair lift in one entry
- An accessible bath with a roll-in shower and low roll-under sink
- Galley with below-counter microwave oven
Overall, they’re thrilled with the result. “At first I was like I really wish we had this and that, but two and a half years later, it’s been enough,” says Patrick. “You adapt to the space that you have. It’s worked well, we’ve been quite comfortable.”
Planning for Challenges of RVing with Disabilities
Thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was written into law, RVers with disabilities are quick to discover that just like with hotels and airplanes, accessibility is lacking in most public and private campgrounds. “I’ve been in some parks that had an accessible site that really didn’t work out that well for us,” says Patrick. In the true spirit of “adaptive” travel, he and Colleen remain undeterred even when so-called “accessible” campsites are anything but easy to use. “We’ve just kind of adapted,” he explains. “If it’s not set up well for us, we just find a way to make it work for what we need.”
When you’re new to RVing with disabilities, you can ease into the adaptive travel experience by following some simple steps that Patrick and Colleen recommend.
- First, call your destination and explain your needs. From the size of your RV to the type of mobility devices you need for outdoor access, try to get a clear picture of what you can expect.
- Ask as many questions as you need to feel better on arrival day.
- Check to see if any staff will be available for help on arrival day. You may not need the assistance but it’s comforting to know you can obtain it if necessary.
When you finally arrive, your spot might not be as accessible as you’d like, but if you know what to expect you can get into the right frame of mind and prepare ahead of time to create workarounds.
Next, know your limitations and recognize the signs that you’ve exceeded your comfort level while traveling. For example, changing locations used to be mentally and physically exhausting for Patrick and Colleen, but now they know some helpful ways to avoid the stress.
- They start by keeping their driving distance to 200 miles at a time. “That’s what I can pull on a tank of fuel, and we only have to stop once for a bathroom break,” he explains. Between transporting Colleen from truck to trailer and allowing their two dogs to stretch and water the trees, one stop per day is plenty for them.
- Upon arriving at their intended destination, he and Colleen try to spend at least three days exploring, relaxing, and rejuvenating for their next relocation.
Over the years and through many long trips to Alaska and Big Bend National Park, Al and Sharon also discovered a low-key RVing style that works for them. “Our preferred method of travel is the Rule-of-2’s,” explains Al. “No more than 200 miles in a day, off the road by 2pm and spend at least 2 nights before moving again.” They may not always stick to it, but that’s the goal.
Equipped with a robust solar electric power system and a fondness for dry camping, they plan their travels around extended family visits while winging it in-between. It gives the couple a chance to relax and recuperate without causing unnecessary travel stress.
“What makes this all doable is the fact we have our home with us,” says Al. Their rolling home is equipped with all the adaptive comforts Sharon requires and enables them to continue RVing into their late 70s, even while her mobility needs become greater. From visiting their Dallas-based daughter in spring to summer with the grandkids in Oregon, they rarely use RV parks and often rely on the Escapees Days End Directory to enjoy as many off-grid camping adventures as possible, while they still can.
Resources for RVing with Disabilities
R&J Mobility (https://rjmobilityservice.com)
Newmar Wheelchair Accessible RVs (https://www.newmarcorp.com/wheelchair-accessible)
Winnebago Accessibility Enhanced RVs (https://www.winnebago.com/models/motorhomes/accessibility-enhanced)
Dunesport Custom Toy Haulers (http://dunesport.com)
CoachLift RV Lift (https://www.coachlift.com/rv-lift.html)
RVing Accessibility Group (http://rvingaccessibility.org)
Escapees Discussion Forums (https://www.rvnetwork.com/forum/42-health-issues-and-medical-insurance/)
RVing with a Disability Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/rvwithadisability)
Did you like this post? Pin it to Pinterest!