Hit the Road in an Accessible RV

Buy new, rent or fix up a used motor home or trailer, then take your accessibility with you on vacation

Article Highlights:
  • The writer discusses an alternative mode of accessible travel for people with disabilities. An accessible motor home (RV), or home on wheels, can make traveling easier for people who don't want to fly or stay in a hotel, or who are unable to stay in family members' homes.
  • A company in Los Angeles offers rentals for its two access-modified motor homes, but they're booked months in advance. It may take some research to find a company in your area that offers rentals.
  • Buying a new, accessible RV is a huge financial commitment, so purchasing a previously owned RV may be a more affordable choice for many consumers with disabilities.
by Barbara and Jim Twardowski, R.N. on January 1, 2012 - 12:20pm

QUEST Vol. 19, No. 1

Correction: An earlier version of this article had the incorrect website and phone number for Bridgeview Manufacturing. The story was revised to reflect the correct information.


Barbara Graztke 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. She 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. Barbara’s solution to making travel accessible is a 40-foot-long mobile home.

Take your home with you

Barbara Gratke outside her motor home
A Braun lift with its own door gives Barbara Graztke wheelchair access to her 40-foot motor home.

Years ago, Barbara and her husband, Bill, embraced the RV life. They bought a previously owned accessible motor home. A Braun lift raises Barbara and her wheelchair up onto the floor of the RV. 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 Graztkes 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 approximately 8-1/2 to 9 miles per gallon, “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. In a pinch, they can run everything off a generator.

Renting an accessible RV

Renting an RV is easy, but renting an accessible RV is almost impossible. After extensive research, the only company we found that rents accessible RVs is El Monte in Los Angeles, Calif.

El Monte has two access-modified motor homes. The 32-foot-long RVs are booked up months in advance. The unit has an electric lift system with a weight limit of 400 pounds, a raised toilet and a shower seat, although it is not a roll-in shower. The RV is designed to accommodate two adults and two children.

Pricing for the rental is determined by demand, utilization and availability. Renting for eight days during the summer currently costs $1,932, plus tax and a 34-cent-per-mile fee.

Buying a new accessible RV or trailer

accessible rv
The Newmar Canyon Star 3911, with chair lift.

If you’re able to make a significant investment — on a par with buying a house — you can have exactly what you want in a new RV.

The Commercial and Specialty Vehicles Division at Winnebago Industries works closely with individuals who are creating an accessible mobile home. Clients purchase a vehicle from a local dealer while receiving support from this corporate-based division located in Iowa.

Winnebago offers 24 mobile home 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 measure 102 inches in width. Consumers can view Winnebago's mobile homes online.

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 ease of 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.

roll-in shower
A roll-in shower with a fold-down seat allows wheelchair user, to transfer easily for a sit-down shower.
open-front bathroom sink
An open-front bathroom sink, left, allows easy access for a wheelchair user.

In the summer of 2010, Bridgeview Manufacturing (877-775-4591) introduced the Harbor View Mobility travel trailer — a vehicle designed for people with disabilities. It is available in 21- to 36-foot lengths and can be towed by many full-size vans, trucks and SUVs.

We’ve tried to take the work out of setting up a trailer, said Roger Byce, Harbor View Mobility manager.

Once you arrive at your destination, the push of a button operates the slide outs, front and rear stabilizer jacks, electric awning and outdoor electric lights. Residents use a remote-controlled commercial-grade Ricon chair lift to access the trailer’s 44-inch-wide door that accommodates a wheelchair or scooter.

The Harbor View costs range from mid $20,000 to mid $40,000. Some of the accessible features include barrier-free, open floor plans; ceiling lights operated with wall switches; roll-in shower with adjustable shower head and stainless steel grab bars; and extra-wide interior doors.

Byce said the response to the Harbor View has been positive. At a recent RV trade show, he had more than 50 people express an interest in the accessible trailer. Many congratulated the company on bringing a product that addresses the needs of the disabled market.

Buy previously owned or get it customized

Buying a previously owned accessible RV may be a more affordable choice for many consumers, often costing thousands less than new. 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 good online resource for accessible RVs for sale is RVproperty.com.

Another way to save some money is to customize a standard used travel trailer or motor home. For example, Kick’in Kampers (520-574-7843), a longtime RV manufacturer located in Tucson, Ariz., specializes in adding accessibility to travel trailers, fifth wheels, vans and motor homes.

Larry Caracciolo of Kick’in Kampers says that 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.

This price does not include what Caracciolo called “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 said.

Join the club

The RV life has introduced Barbara and Bill Graztke to lots of new friends. They have met many of them through the Handicapped Travel Club (HTC), of which Barbara is secretary and Bill is president.

HTC was formed in 1973 to encourage people with a wide range of disabilities and their families to travel. The Graztkes say it’s a great way to connect with other RV folks. Its motto is “Fun and Fellowship.”  

Currently, the club has more than 250 members and is open to all for a small initial fee and annual dues of $8. HTC is not affiliated with any other national organization.

Occasionally, HTC hosts regional rallies and schedules local get-togethers. A newsletter and more information is available on the organization’s website.

Every year, a national rally is held for members to meet. The 2011 rally was at a campground in central Wisconsin with wide open spaces, a fishing pond, swimming area, free Wi-Fi and an accessible roll-in shower. The location of the rally rotates around the country.

The 2012 National Rally is planned for Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Attending a rally is a great way to meet folks in the accessible community and ask questions about RV ownership before purchasing a vehicle. Owning an accessible RV has been more than a mode of transportation for the Graztkes — it has been a lifestyle they highly recommend.

Newmar Canyon Star 3911 floor plan

The Newmar Canyon Star 3911 floor plan indicating various accessibility features, including a microwave oven installed below the kitchen’s cooktop. All switches and the monitor and EMS panels are also lowered into a base cabinet. All areas of the motor home are wheelchair accessible, even with the slide rooms in during road travel.
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