The Traveling Home
Finding wheelchair accommodations on vacation is a breeze when you're traveling in an accessible RV.
Barbara Gratzke loves to vacation and enjoys traveling six to eight months out of every year. But she finds hotels uncomfortable and doesn’t like to fly. Gratzke visits family and friends across the country, but is unable to stay in their homes.
The 65-year-old road warrior has post-polio syndrome and uses a power wheelchair. Gratzke’s solution to making travel accessible is a 40-foot-long motorhome.
All the Comforts of Home
Years ago, Gratzke and her husband, Bill, embraced the RV life. They bought a previously owned, accessible motorhome. They added a Braun lift that raises Gratzke and her wheelchair onto the RV’s floor.
The bed has been lowered and the toilet raised to accommodate a wheelchair user. In the shower, a transfer bench makes bathing easier. Nothing in the kitchen was modified, so Bill does all the cooking.
When the Gratzkes travel, they stay in RV campsites, state and national parks and even their son’s backyard. Their home-on-wheels runs on diesel. Bill says they get up to 9 mpg, “depending upon our speed, the altitude and if we’re traveling uphill.”
They carry their own water and waste management system. All they need is an electrical hookup and they can run everything off a generator, if needed.
Grip-assist handles on either side of the toilet, a roll-under sink and easy-to-reach control switches were added to this ability-equipped Winnebago.
Traveling in an RV is a very comfortable way for wheelchair users to see the country, but getting started can be challenging.
Renting an accessible RV is almost impossible. But if you’re willing to make an investment, you can buy a new motorhome and have exactly what you want.
The Commercial and Specialty Vehicles Division at Winnebago Industries works closely with individuals who are creating an accessible motorhome. Clients purchase a vehicle from a local dealer while receiving support from the corporate-based division in Iowa.
Winnebago offers 24 models with 68 floor plans, but not all of them work for accessibility needs. The length of these homes varies from 24 to 42 feet long and measures 102 inches wide.
The company’s detailed questionnaire for people with mobility issues describes some of the mobile home features that can be modified at additional costs.
For example, the TV satellite system is operated with a hand crank and the accessible option is a remote control. The TV/DVD systems are typically placed on high shelves in the bedroom and living room. Both can be positioned on a lower shelf for easier access from a wheelchair.
When selecting faucets, consumers can choose non-scald, thermostatically-controlled faucets and long-levered handles. In the shower, various adjustable showerheads are available.
A roll-under sink in the lavatory is a choice in some models. In the kitchen, the microwave can be placed in an accessible location. Controls for the slideout(s) and generator can be located in more optimal areas.
Typically, a person has to climb five steps to enter a Winnebago. For someone using a wheelchair, a second (wider) door and a lift can be installed. The door handles can be placed lower for easier use and a tethered strap can be installed on the inside to aid in closing the door.
Other options include wheelchair tie-downs, a wider aisle, adapted driving controls and an adjustable bed.
Large motorhomes are very nice, but not all accessible RVs have to be that big or expensive.
The Harbor View Mobility travel trailer is designed for people with disabilities and ranges in cost from mid-$20,000 to mid-$40,000. It’s available in 21- to 36-foot lengths and can be towed by many full-size vans, trucks or SUVs.
“We’ve tried to take the work out of setting up a trailer,” says Roger Byce, Harbor View Mobility manager.
Once you arrive at your destination, the push of a button operates the slideouts, front and rear stabilizer jacks, electric awning and outdoor electric lights. Residents use a remote-controlled commercial-grade Ricon chairlift to access the trailer’s 44-inch-wide door that accommodates a wheelchair or scooter.
Some of the accessible features include barrier-free, open floor plans; ceiling lights operated with wall switches; a roll-in shower with adjustable shower head and stainless steel grab bars; and extra-wide interior doors (magictouchrv.com).
Other options that could provide even bigger savings are buying a previously owned accessible RV or converting a standard, used camper.
Disableddealer.com is an online resource and regional print magazine that lists accessible vehicles for sale by owners and dealers from across the country. Another online resource for accessible RVs for sale is rvproperty.com.
Customizing a standard used travel trailer or motor home can provide savings, too.
RV Coachworks International in Tucson, Ariz., (rvcoachworks.com) and Creative Coach in Lakeland, Fla., (creativecoach.com) are two of the many businesses across the country that can customize travel trailers, fifth wheels, vans and motorhomes for accessibility.
Larry Caracciolo of RV Coachworks says for about $15,000, they can install a wider door, roll-in shower, power cabinets, a “pop-out” emergency fire exit in the bedroom and a power inverter that will “turn 12-volt battery juice into 110 volts of AC current,” suitable for powering a vent.
However, that price doesn’t include what Caracciolo calls “the most expensive item,” an under-vehicle wheelchair lift costing from $10,000 to $12,000.
A cantilevered wheelchair lift that extends from the doorway can be had for about $3,000, he says.
Join the Club
Whether you’re buying a new or used camper, or converting an old one, the RV life has helped people such as the Gratzkes meet lots of new friends.
They’ve made many through the Handicapped Travel Club (HTC). HTC was formed in 1973 to encourage people with a wide range of disabilities and their families to travel. The HTC website (handicappedtravelclub.com) provides plenty of information on accessible campgrounds, RVs for sale and more.
Every year, a national rally is held at various places across the country. The 2013 rally was held in Surprise, Ariz., while the 2012 event was in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Attending a rally is a great way to meet folks in the accessible community and ask questions about RV ownership before purchasing a vehicle.
Jim and Barbara Twardowski cover the travel industry writing about a broad range of topics. They specialize in accessible and boomer travel, luxury accommodations, culinary/cultural offerings and destinations.
The Traveling Home
|I was paralyzed in 2010 and already had a 5th wheel after I was hit I had my coach modified by coachcraft in Oregon and more work done by RVIncidents in Missouri, I have a list of mods on my website with pictures at pararv.com It's the best way to travel.||jrp010
March 10, 2014
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