Finding An Ideal and Affordable Wheelchair Accessible RV
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 13.7% of Americans require a wheelchair or other devices for mobility purposes. In recent years, the RV Industry stepped up to give these people the ability to live the RV lifestyle. We’ll help you find an affordable and ideal wheelchair accessible RV through highlighting some of the best brands on the market.
Many RV consumers have heard about the Class A motorhome category’s wheelchair-friendly floorplans, and we’ll discuss those in further detail. Not everyone is looking to go that big however, so we’ll also show you some alternatives. If you love your current RV but need a little more help getting into it, you’ll learn how to modify it so you can continue your camping adventures.
What Does it Mean to be Wheelchair Accessible?
Theoretically, if you were to make a D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) ramp outside a flat-leveled interior RV, with a narrow enough wheelchair, that coach would be wheelchair accessible. If you follow the Peachey Family on their YouTube Channel, you’d see how Brian gets around perfectly in his standard-built Newmar Bay Star. Some could argue he drives better with his hand controls than some of those (insert your favorite opinion word here) drivers on the road.
Wheelchair Accessible RV manufacturers that specifically build motorhomes and travel trailers with wheelchair accessibility add hydraulic lifts, widen center aisles, and reconfigure features making their coaches usable to someone dependent on a wheelchair and other medical equipment. You’ll find pass-through bathrooms with roll-in showers, lowered countertops, and control panel features to give a wheelchair-aided RVer in independent living experience.
Many manufacturers make handicap RVs give consumers the ability to add customizations to the floorplans based on their individual needs. Some options include plumbing oxygen lines, adding track systems with a hammock for easy transfer within the coach, additional house batteries for medical equipment power requirements, and other needs.
When you speak with the manufacturer’s sales representative, they understand that a person’s medical condition is unique. The preplanned floorplans act as a starting point that customers can begin their customizations. Customizing an RV floorplan doesn’t always mean adding features. It could mean substituting standard cabinetry for lowered versions or taking items out to create more space.
Are Any RVs ADA Certified?
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush (commonly referred to as George Senior) signed the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Title III of the act discusses how commercial buildings must have equal access for those with disabilities. That’s why you see wheelchair ramps, bigger elevator cars, and other considerations.
The ADA went through updates to stay current with the changes to American Society. The 2010 updates enhanced building codes to physical community spaces, and the 2019 changes focused on public website enhancements. To become ADA certified, your business asset must fall within the ADA’s purview.
The RV Industry has a great tradition of stepping up to support America. They were there to help our soldiers during World War II with additional housing trailers, Coleman lanterns, and portable stoves. More recently, many big-name brands donated travel trailers as mobile triage centers and first responder housing for the 2020 pandemic.
Even before backup cameras became required by law in 2018, motorhomes had them as standard features decades beforehand. Towables now come with brackets and pre-wiring for backup cameras, while Congress considers amending the law to include having the cameras on trailers.
When RV manufacturers mention the ADA, they will say they’re “compliant,” not certified. Since RVs don’t fall under the ADA jurisdiction, they can’t receive certification at this time. Yet nothing’s stopping them from studying the requirements and translating those requirements into their coaches.
At their own expense, manufacturer’s have had ADA inspectors review their wheelchair accessible designs and have walked through their prototypes to make sure they did it right. The best the inspectors could say was that if RVs were a part of the ADA requirements, these accessible units would pass a certification inspection.
The Best Variety of Wheelchair Accessible RVs
Of the Big Four RV manufacturers (Forest River Inc., REV Group, Thor Ind., and Winnebago Outdoors), Winnebago continued forward with their daughter brand, Newmar’s success with wheelchair accessible Class A motorhomes.
Class A motorhomes are the most expensive RV category due to the best features, luxury interiors, and other justifiable reasons. Yet families with a disabled family member usually have higher than average medical bills that make these luxury liners challenging to fit into their monthly budget.
We will discuss them in more detail and some other options that may better fit your finances. If you feel like you only have two doors to select from, Winnebago is door “A,” and Newmar is door “B,” here’s door “C.”
- Number of Models: 7
- Length: 39.2 Feet
- Dry Weight: 8,100 Pounds
- GVWR: 10,400 Pounds
- Sleep: 7
- Tanks: F- 35 gallons/ G- 40 gallons/ B- 40 gallons
In 1986, Harbor View (known as HL Enterprises, Inc.) opened its doors in Elkhart, Indiana. Today they exclusively build wheelchair accessible travel trailers. The seven mobility travel trailers range between 25-40 feet in length. Due to the specialized features and conventional construction, you’ll need a tow vehicle that can handle slightly heavier weights.
As a disabled child’s parent, you want your child to experience childhood as close to normal as possible. While you’re doing your best to push them with “I can” statements, their school and other organizations are bombarding them with “you can’t” because of liability concerns. Much of the time, you feel like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain just to see it roll down again.
The 36CKBB is Harbor View’s wheelchair accessible travel trailer with a bunkhouse. The pass-through bathroom sits between the two twin-size bunks and the kitchen/ living room section. The bunkhouse holds the wheelchair entry with the lift. The bathroom area has plenty of grab bars for maneuvering around independently.
The kitchen counter is low enough, so your child doesn’t have excuses to do the dishes. The microwave sits under the three-burner stove so they can prepare their pizza rolls. Full-length storage has plenty of space at wheelchair level, so he/she can put their things away as they should.
As you and your spouse relax on the full-size bed in the evening, you two have your quiet retreat to decompress. There’s no reason why you should hear the kids blasting aliens on the game console unless they have the volume turned up too much. After you yell across the coach to turn it down, you realize you just had a “normal kid” experience. Yep, the RV’s worth it.
- Chassis: Chevrolet Express, Ford Econoline, Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter
- Length: 20-24 Feet
- GVWR: 6,000- 8,000 Pounds
- Sleep: 2
- Tanks: F- 25 gallons/ G- 25 gallons/ B- 25 gallons
Since 1961, Sportsmobile (you may know them as Sportswagon) was the name that converted your favorite vans into campervans. Even before Roadtrek and Pleasure-Way hung their shingles, Sportsmobile was the American name for Chevy, Dodge, Ford, and VW #VanLife vehicles. If you wanted all-shag-carpeted furniture with the pop-top roof in the 1970s, they were the ones that built it (don’t worry, they do keep up with the latest innovations and trends).
Sportsmobile builds its wheelchair accessible Class B RVs based on the customer’s specific needs. You’ll find that these Transits or Sprinters are RVs with roll-in showers despite the smaller size. The company’s designers faced the challenge head-on by finding outstanding solutions for wheelchair limited users.
The company has to install overhead cabinetry due to space limitations, but they put mirrors inside the cabinet doors, so you don’t have to stand to see what’s inside. They ask their customers to install the wheelchair lift before the conversion but can help with the research. Many choose a lift that folds completely under the van, so it doesn’t utilize any interior space.
Even though you need a mobility aid, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for an on-road RV. Sportsmobile’s partnership with Quigley 4×4 allowing them to build off-road campervans using the Ford Transit chassis. Go ahead and climb that mountain or drive across that river. When people ask you what you did over the weekend at the office on Monday, watch their jaw drop.
- Gas Chassis: Ford F-53 Chassis
- Gas Engine: Ford 7.3L V8 Godzilla- 430 hp @ 475 lb./ft.
- Diesel Chassis: Freightliner MC Chassis
- Diesel Engine: Cummins 6.7L Inline 6 B- 340 hp @ 700 lb./ft.
- Length: 39.11 Feet
- GVWR: 30,000 Pounds
- Sleep: 4
- Tanks: F- 75 gallons/ G- 60 gallons/ B- 40 gallons
Newmar was the first in the Late Neo-Classic (1990-2007) Era to release Wheelchair RV floor plans. They first started with the gas Canyon Star, the diesel Ventana, and the high-end Dutch Star. As demand grew, Newmar increased it to six models. We count the Canyon Star twice since it now comes as a gasser or a front end diesel (FRED). You’ll find their motorhome with wheelchair lifts in the following models:
- Bay Star 3811 ($157,864 Starting MSRP) 38.11 Feet Long
- Gas Canyon Star 3911 ($178,150) 39.11 Feet
- FRED Canyon Star 3911 ($233,870) 39.11 Feet
- Kountry Star 4011 ($272,812) 40.10 Feet
- Ventana 4311 ($305,036) 43.10 Feet
- Dutch Star 4311 ($394,095) 43.9 Feet
When you look at Newmar handicap RVs for sale, their MSRPs range from $158,000 to $395,000. If your wallet says no, but everything else about the motorcoach is perfect for what you need, you can use some buying strategies to solve the financial issue.
When you look at the six models, you’ll notice that the floorplans are essentially the same. Newmar moves one or two things around, but generally, they mirror each other. The Bay Star is 38.11 feet, the Dutch Star is 43.9 feet, and the others fall somewhere in between. Five feet makes a big difference, but each model’s length differs by a foot or two.
The floorplan starts up front with a sofa and dinette on a slideout behind the driver’s chair. Seating stretches against the sidewall, leaving plenty of room for a wheelchair to pull under. The lowered countertop lets everyone prepare dinner with the various cooking devices and sink on the door side.
The wheelchair lift divides the RV in half with the refrigerator and storage on the opposite wall. As you pass through the bathroom, the spacious roll-in shower measures about the same length that the opposite commode and roll under vanity take up on the door side. The rear queen-size bed comes with a head lift feature. The opposite wall has a cabinetry system that slides out for extra space. The rear closets are full length to hang dresses, coats, or other long items.
When searching for affordable mobility RVs, look up Newmar used wheelchair accessible RVs to buy. You may find a used model that fits your financial needs. An average RV loses 20% of its value as soon as you take it home. Class A motorhomes depreciate the fastest of any RV category. After five years, a $200,000 RV could sell for less than $90,000. Many of the RVs are in great shape and have less than 40,000 miles on them.
Once Winnebago brought Newmar into its corporate umbrella, Winnie used Newmar’s wheelchair-accessible RV innovations in a different light. Instead of offering one floorplan in 40-foot motorhomes, they created the Winnebago wheelchair accessible RV Accessibility Enhanced (AE) Program within the Adventurer, Forza, and Intent Class A motorhomes.
After a couple of years of success and consumer feedback, Winnie shifted gears by offering one gasser and a new diesel designed explicitly for the AE program. For 2021, the Winnebago wheelchair accessible RVs are the legendary Adventurer 30TAE and the new Inspire 34AE.
The 31-foot Adventurer is a family-friendly gasser that sleeps up to seven with its optional drop-down bunk above the driver’s area. The roll-in shower has fully reinforced walls, in case you need to add more grab bars or accommodations besides the supplied bar. The front sofa has removable pedestal tables making it multi-functional for dining.
The space between the commode/vanity area and the master bed is a great place to park a wheelchair for the evening when you’re ready to climb into bed for the night. The optional vanity sink across the bed allows you to roll under it to complete your morning or evening ritual.
The almost 36-foot diesel Inspire places a sofa and four-seater dinette on a slideout behind the driver. The dream dinette table has a slideout leaf and raises for someone to use as a standing workspace.
Winnebago made the bathroom in an all-in-one configuration rather than a pass-through. The roll-in shower has a rubberized lip that keeps the shower water contained no matter how many times you roll over it. The drain has a siphon mechanism that pulls the water down, preventing the shower from flooding. Like the Adventurer, the shower walls are also fully reinforced, so you can add additional equipment to make it safe.
The master bed is a north/south facing corner bed that leaves ample room on one side. The sliding door allows you privacy as you get ready or just need to separate yourself from the world. The huge wardrobes give you all the space you need for your clothing and medical equipment, so you’ll be comfortable on your good days and bad.
What is Winnebago’s Accessibility Enhanced Program?
If you want to buy the Inspire or Adventurer AEs, Winnebago has an exclusive contract with La Mesa RV to sell these wheelchair RVs with hand controls through their dealerships. When you buy the standard floorplan, they’ll have the wheelchair lift, but the cabinetry and other features will measure at standard heights.
Everyone’s medical needs are unique to them. When you call or email the Accessibility Enhanced Departement (found within the details of each motorhome’s webpage), you can speak with one of Winnebago’s AE counselors directly. They’ll schedule a physical, virtual, or phone appointment to walk through the customizing process with you.
For example, someone with Multiple Sclerosis may want to have an intercom system from the bed to the driver’s area. On their bad days, when they can’t get out of bed, they may need to contact their spouse while they’re traveling.
The motorhome may spend a lot of time boondocking in a hospital parking lot, so Winnebago may have the ability to change the generator and other equipment to aid in lengthening dry camping time.
Whatever your medical needs are, the Ability Enhanced counselors will inform you on what Winnebago can do to make your Adventurer or Inspire the best RV for your specific requirements so your whole family can enjoy the adventure.
Can’t Find a Floorplan You Like? Convert Your Favorite RV
In some situations, you may need a little help instead of a lot. You already own your dream RV and have everything you want in it. Due to your changing needs, it’s become challenging to get in and out, but you’re far from setting the jacks down for good. You may ask how you put a wheelchair in your RV or what’s the best RV for seniors?
Companies like RJ Mobility Service can add wheelchair lifts and other equipment to your existing RV. It’s a less expensive alternative to buying a new RV, and the process can take a few weeks to complete.
You may lose a cabinet, lounge recliner, or other feature, but the benefit of having the wheelchair lift outweighs the loss. If the customization company can’t match the door paint to the graphic design, other companies out there specialize in custom paint. These companies focus on hot rods and commercial vehicle graphics. A quick call to your RV manufacturer will give your graphic painter everything they need to perfectly blend your new door into your paint job.
The True Spirit of the RV Lifestyle
Since 1910, people have chosen the RV lifestyle to get away from their daily life to explore the country and enjoy time with their family. In 110 years, the only thing that’s changed is technology. Before wheelchair accessible RVs became successful in the industry, there were a few attempts, but they didn’t gain any traction.
That didn’t stop the disabled community from hitting the road. Since 1973, the Handicap Travel Club out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has enjoyed the RV lifestyle. Many disabled RVers have found ways to hit the road.
On a personal note, this author is the child of an M.S. patient. Traveling was difficult for my mother, so my father experimented with the RV life. After a successful first trip, we all loved it. My mother did well in the pop-ups and travel trailers of the 1980s. My best memories of my mother have to do with the RV life.
When I moved on to graduate school, my parents bought their first Class A motorhome and spent a year on the road. While my mother’s M.S. had advanced, their Winnebago Adventurer took care of her as they traveled all over the place. Yet my parents couldn’t understand why I wanted to become a full-timer…go figure.
The point is, the RV lifestyle is for everyone. You can find wheelchair-accessible RV rentals through RVezy to try it for yourself. It’s an experience everyone should have at least once in their life. When you rent, the owner will walk you through the coach, so you know how it operates and answer all of your questions. While you’re on your trip, both the rental company and owner are always reachable as more questions come up.
Many owners offer additional features like setting up the RV for you at the local campground near your home. Taking on a new experience like this can be nerve-wracking when medical concerns dictate your decisions. Taking the travel and setup/teardown stressors out of it can make a big difference.
Owners rent their RVs out when they’re not using them to keep the RV active and to gain some extra income. When you rent a wheelchair-accessible RV, rest assured, you’re renting from someone in a similar situation as you. They know what you’re dealing with, so they can relate to everything you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions to gain some of their wisdom.
By the end of that rental trip, you’ll know what your next move is. While you’re researching the RV you’re about to buy, check out online RV online training classes to learn about driving techniques.
We’ll see you down the road!
About the Author
Although he’s from Motown, Brian is a legacy RVer that grew up on I-75. He, his wife, and three working-class fur-babies have enjoyed the full-time RV lifestyle since 2017. Like John Madden, he hasn’t “worked” in years because he gets to write about his passion. When he’s not working, he supports his daughter’s dog rescue efforts and disability causes. Learn more with him on CamperSmarts.com