I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
Approximately 12% of the adults living in the U.S. have some sort of disability. In some cases, their health issues keep them from owning and traveling in recreational vehicles, but in others, RV travel is possible. However, before choosing this lifestyle, those in the second group need to do a good deal of research because there is much to learn about this issue.
Questions disabled people should consider include but are not limited to things such as:
- Will I be able to hook my RV up to water, electric and sewer connections?
- How difficult will it be for me to enter and leave the vehicle?
- Will I be able to attach a tow vehicle to my travel unit?
- What will I do about taking showers?
- Will I be able to drive for long periods of time?
- Will I be able to maneuver comfortably when I’m in my coach?
- Do I have the ability to load and unload my belongings?
Those who travel regularly in recreational vehicles know that these all are common issues, some of which present problems even for them! Therefore, they need to be carefully considered long before making a final decision about buying a travel unit.
Special Needs RVs
The average camper, travel trailer or motor home is designed for use by individuals who do not have physical limitations. Therefore, to be able to RV, those with disabilities need to buy travel units that meet their specific needs in order to make sure that what they buy will work for their particular situation.
For example, those in wheelchairs must have units equipped with lifts, wider doorways, roll in showers and lowered counters. Those with arthritic conditions should buy units with inverters so that they can use hearing pads when their coach is in motion and furniture that provides solid lumbar support.
Most manufacturers can modify vehicles to meet these specifications, but people can also purchase RVs from private owners who have similar disabilities. Sites such as RVProperty.com list units such as these in addition to standard RVs. You can find many similar sites with a simple internet search.
Remember when shopping that finding the right RV is just one piece of the puzzle, so before you buy, make sure to find the other pieces.
Handicapped Accessible Campgrounds
These days many campgrounds have handicapped accessible sites that are level, wide and conveniently located to clubhouses, pools and bathrooms.
However, not all of them offer these types of sites and even those that do may have things that block access to hookups such as brick borders or hookups that are located a fair distance from the basic site.
In addition, even though the parks may have such sites, other campers may be using them!
Therefore it’s extremely important for people to directly contact parks to see what they do have and to reserve sites for themselves.
Disabled RVers should also join Handicapped Travelers Club because this group has a website that provides many resources and first-hand information from others who are disabled.
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Social Security and Medicare
Many people with disabilities receive Social Security Disability benefits, but the rules for accessing them are rigid. The same is true for people on Medicaid. These are government programs that are administered by the state, so requirements for keeping benefits can vary significantly.
For this reason, before you do anything, you need to contact your Social Security office to see if buying and/or living in an RV will keep you from meeting their requirements Recreational Vehicles and Government Benefits Are Not a Walk in the Park explains the issue in more detail.
Since each state is different when it comes to regulations, if you are planning on moving to another state, you need to make sure that doing so won’t affect your income. You should also check with Medicare about these issues because moving to a different area can also affect those benefits.
Handicapped RVer Gives Tour of RV
Medications and Special Equipment
Many disabled people need to have special equipment and specific types of medications that can be difficult if not impossible to get while traveling or when moving to another state.
This can be a significant barrier for some and is an issue that should be carefully researched. Those taking opiates could be at considerable risk due to the current rules on dispensing such medicines. A doctor who does not know you is not likely to prescribe these types of pain medications, and a pharmacist will not fill scrip from a different state.
RVs that are designed to meet the needs of the disabled (like the one in the video below) usually meet at least some of the equipment requirements, but if you do not have one of these vehicles, you'll have to retrofit yours so that you can function properly and be comfortable in it.
It's easy to install grab bars and construct ramps, but widening doorways,lowering counters and adding slide rooms is a different matter.
On the other hand you can buy amenities such a portable, extendable wheelchair ramp like the one made by Roll-a-Ramp. A friend of mine uses one of these and she just loves it because it is durable yet light and can be rolled up to store easily. She's tried other types, but for RVing, she says this one is the best. The fact that it can be extended makes it especially good to use for RV travel due to the fact that campsites are not always level.
If you search the Amazon site you can find everything from hand held shower heads to swivel seat cushions that you usually can buy for less than what you would pay at a standard medical supply shop.
If you look closely at the video mentioned above, you'll be able to see the various amenities that may be things you will need.
RVs for the disabled are costly, but so are items you may need if you want to retrofit your own travel unit. Therefore you will need to plan carefully if you want to pursue this lifestyle.
The disabled cannot count on people at a campground stepping up to help them. Some do, and some do not.
Therefore, they need to be prepared to be independent when traveling. The ideal situation is to have a travel partner who can handle chores such as filling and dumping tanks, loading and loading the RV, setting up camp, handling vehicle and utilities hookups, setting up outdoor grills and furniture and dealing with any type of mechanical problem that may occur.
If you are in a wheelchair or have back problems and get a flat tire on the interstate, there is no way you’re going to be able to fix it. Help is not always available, so you really should have anther adult with you who can handle this type of problem.
Cell phones don’t always work, so you cannot assume that such devices will be available.
I am not disabled, but years ago my husband and I got a flat tire on a Sunday on an interstate. We did not have a cell phone, and were not towing a car, so my husband had to walk several miles to the closest town to get help.
When the tire blew, it took out the rear fender and damaged our holding tank…so we also had to find a way to have the coach repaired. This shows you how quickly things can happen and how important it is to have an able bodied person with you when RVing. Had I been alone and disabled, this could have been a serious problem.
People who have never traveled in a recreational vehicle before rarely understand how complicated and difficult doing so can be.
RVing is more than putting some things into a vehicle and driving off for a happy vacation.
These vehicles must be maintained and repaired even during trips. Their tanks must be emptied and sanitized regularly and driving them is not easy.
If someone is disabled and wants to travel or live in a camper, travel trailer or motor home, they need to be aware of the issues that have been mentioned in this article.
I strongly suggest that disabled people
- research carefully,
- travel with someone who is physically able,
- rent an RV to take on a short trip before buying,
- consider traveling with a group,
- consider renting an RV that is already set up in a campground rather than buying one and having to deal with travel issues or
- buy a deeded RV lot to use instead of traveling.
Doing these things can provide the RV experience and eliminate many problems for those who are handicapped.
There is a lot to know about disability RVing, so those wishing to become involved in this lifestyle need to be realistic about their own situations as well as the hard facts.
RVing is a great way to travel and an enjoyable way to live, but only if it is right for you.
A Well-Designed Handicapped Accessible Camper
- Anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act: July 26, 2021
July 26, 1990: President George H. W. Bush signed into law the American with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Sondra Rochelle