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Do RV Modifications for Disabilities Really Make Camping Accessible?

Published on September 20th, 2023 by Natalie Henley

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The open road calls to many of us, promising adventure, freedom, and the chance to make lasting memories. For those RVers with disabilities, the allure of the open road is no less potent. However, it often comes with additional mobility challenges. That’s where RV modifications for disabilities come into play. These alterations can transform an RV into a comfortable, accessible home on wheels, opening up the world of RVing adventures to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities.

What is “RV Accessibility”?

Do you know what makes an RV more accessible? It’s more than just making it easier for physically challenged people with wheelchairs and other health issues to enter and exit the vehicle. Truly accessible RVs means being able to use all the features of the camper, from the kitchen and bathroom to the sleeping and living areas. It means being able to move around comfortably and safely, both while the vehicle is stationary and on the move.

These Changes Make RVing More Accessible

RV modifications for disabilities are crucial in achieving this level of accessibility. These adaptions can range from simple additions like grab bars in the bathroom and non-slip flooring to more complex changes like wheelchair lifts and custom-built storage for medical equipment. Everyone has slightly different needs. But the overall goal is to create an environment that caters to the unique needs of each individual, allowing them to enjoy the RV lifestyle to the fullest.

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Here are some general RV modifications for disabilities, based on the most common issues faced by part-time and full-time RVers with motorhomes, trailers, and vans.

Wheelchair Modifications

For people who use wheelchairs, certain RV mods are essential. In addition to wheelchair lifts and handrails, these can include:

Widened doorways and hallways
Lowered countertops and tables
Accessible toilet, roll-under sink and bathroom facilities
Entry ramp

Medical Equipment Storage

Storing medical equipment safely and conveniently is another critical aspect of creating accessible RVs. This can involve creating DIY storage amenities that keep necessary equipment within easy reach yet securely stowed during travel. Installing secure cabinets or storage compartments can help keep oxygen tanks, dialysis machines, or other medical devices safe and accessible.

What About Reliable RV Power Sources for Medical Equipment?

For RV travelers who rely on medical equipment, a dependable power source is crucial. Options include installing a permanent solar power system on your RV, and complementing it with backup power provided by portable electric generators like a Bluetti and Jackery, or investing in a gas generator. These devices can provide a reliable, consistent power source for medical equipment, ensuring that you can continue your treatment uninterrupted, even while on the road. Thankfully more RV manufacturers like Newmar are making accessible motorhomes and adding accessibility features like special wall outlets for CPAP machines and medical devices.

Calculate the power needs of your medical equipment. Choose a power source that can meet those needs.

Always have a backup plan in case of power failures. Regular maintenance of your power equipment can also help prevent unexpected breakdowns.

Visually Impaired Upgrades

For RV enthusiasts with visual impairments, RV changes can significantly enhance the traveling experience. Tactile markers can be added to controls and switches to make them easier to identify by touch. Voice-activated systems can also be installed to control various features of the RV, from the lights and temperature to the entertainment system switches.

"Bump dots" can be used to indicate specific controls and switches.
“Bump dots” can be used to indicate specific controls and switches.

Hearing Impairment Upgrades

For RVers with hearing impairments, visual alert systems can be a game-changer. These systems use flashing lights to signal everything from a knock at the door to a smoke alarm. Clear, visible signage can also be helpful in communicating key information about the RV’s features and how to use them.

visual alert system for RVers with disabilities
Example of a visual alert system.

Chronic Illness RV Modifications

Certain mobility upgrades also play a crucial role for RVers living with chronic illnesses. Custom storage solutions can keep medications organized and easy to access. A small refrigerator for medications that need to be kept cool can be a vital modification. For those who need regular rest, creating a comfortable, quiet sleeping area can make a significant difference in their travel experience.

Ensuring Comfort and Safety for General Mobility Issues

For RVers with mobility challenges that don’t require wheelchairs, such as people with severe arthritis or balance problems, there are still many RV changes that can make this kind of travel more comfortable and safe. Examples include:

Handrails in key areas can provide extra support when moving around.
Non-slip surfaces added to floors, steps, and the shower can prevent falls.
Adjustable beds makes getting in and out of bed easier.
A raised toilet seat and roll-in shower adds comfort and ease of use in the bathroom.

Most of these essential RV revisions for handicapped travelers are relatively inexpensive and easy to do.

How to Support Neurodivergent RVers

For neurodivergent individuals with cognitive or learning disabilities, certain RV alterations can make their journey smoother. Labeling cabinets and drawers with words or pictures can help individuals find what they need more easily. Keeping routines consistent can also provide a sense of comfort and familiarity, which can be facilitated by thoughtful RV layout and organization.

What is the Handicapped Travel Club?

One organization that stands out in the realm of RVing with disabilities is the Handicapped Travel Club. This club has spent nearly 50 years advocating for more accessibility during travel. The club’s motto, “Get out and live,” inspires physically challenged people of all ages to embrace travel and adventure, regardless of their conditions. If you are an Escapees RV Club member, the Handicapped Travel Club club also has an “HTC Birds of a Feather” chapter within the organization.

The Club holds an annual rally for members.

Attendees can share their experiences, showcase their RV changes, exchange resources, and participate in various activities. The club also works with state and national parks to improve accommodations for disabled campers. Examples include wider walking paths and beach mats. They have even worked with the U.S. Access Board to create guidelines for federal and state parks.

The club’s website is a rich resource for those interested in RV alterations. It provides guides, reviews, and information about wheelchair-accessible RVs, accessible vans, and lifts. For those looking to buy or sell an already customized RV, they recommend RV Property.

The Handicapped Travel Club is more than just a resource; it’s a community. It’s a place where people with physical challenges and their families can find support, share their adventures, and learn from each other. It’s a testament to the fact that with the right upgrades and resources, the open road can truly be for everyone.

See the Transformative Power of RV Remodels for Disabilities

These RV modifications are not just about adding ramps and making the RV physically accessible. They’re about creating an environment where everyone can enjoy the freedom and adventure that comes with the RV lifestyle. Whether it’s installing a wheelchair lift, setting up a visual alert system, or creating a custom storage solution for medical equipment, these alterations can make a world of difference.

Consult with a healthcare professional to assess whether RVing is a safe and suitable activity for you or your loved ones, given your specific health conditions.

With the right modifications, resources, and support, like that found through online RV community platforms like iRV2 forums, the open road can truly be for everyone.

Got your own RVing with disabilities experiences and suggestions?

What handicapped RVer alterations have you found helpful? Are there resources or disabled camping communities that have supported you on your journey? Your insights could be invaluable to others navigating similar paths.

Remember, the journey is not just about the destination but also about the empowerment and freedom that comes with being able to navigate the world on your own terms.

These RV upgrades do so much more than boost accessibility; they enable adventures, fostering independence, and, most importantly, empowering journeys. Let’s continue to learn, share, and journey together.

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