Nobody on this planet can tell you as a disabled person what you can and cannot do. All you need is the will and the tools to get you where you want to go. What I will share with you are options for making your life experiences and dreams a little more possible and a little more convenient. I was told as a young man, “Sometimes life doesn’t always fit. Sometimes you must make some adjustments.” I’m coming straight at you as an 80% Disabled Veteran who deals with day-to-day physical challenges; however, my disabilities don’t stop me from being an RV owner who enjoys the open road and the majestic sites that seem to envelop this great land that we know as America. I believe that your RV is your magic carpet to experience this great country.
Special Needs RVs
A special needs RV can make what was once difficult or impossible, enjoyable. Today’s RVs can be custom modified to meet every need of the disabled. Most importantly, especially for those who are mobility impaired or using a wheelchair or electric cart, modern RVs are equipped with hydraulically lowered and hoisted ramps or a wheelchair lift. Getting in and out of your rig is as simple as pushing a button. Just like homes and apartments, RV floorplans can be customized to meet the 36’’ spacing required for wheelchairs. Bathrooms are designed to be spacious to accommodate your wheelchair and tubs are equipped with seats and 60’’ handheld shower hoses.
So which type of RV best suits your needs? It’s up to you. If you want to go basic and least expensive you may want to consider a pop-up (tent) trailer with a ramp for access. In most cases, you’ll have to rely on the campgrounds for bathroom and shower facilities. In the mid-range price, you have the pull-behind, hitch or fifth-wheel towed camper. These units will be larger and have a bathroom that can be modified to meet your needs. The big boys, class A (think bus) and class C (think bigger than an airport shuttle) are homes on wheels. They have it all. These motorhomes are driven by you and can spare you the physical strain of hitching and unhitching a pull-behind. Driving controls can be modified to meet your needs. Foot controls can be replaced with hand controls. With these amazing new vehicles, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying this beautiful country.
Handicapped Accessible Campgrounds and Parks
Campgrounds can be quite difficult to navigate for those of us with disabilities. Even though accessible campground work for everyone with mobility challenges, basic campgrounds are mostly void of paved surfaces for wheelchair access and accessible bathrooms. I live in Colorado and have visited and stayed a night or two at several of Colorado’s accessible campsites. In my native Colorado, which is home to Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park; one park stands out above the others when it comes to wheelchair and disability access.
The park is The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve just Northeast of Alamosa, Colorado. The trip runs about 230 miles south and west of Denver and should take you about 3- and one-half hours to traverse. The views are incredible. With the expansive seas of sand, the dunes would normally be inaccessible to wheelchairs, but the park has loaner wheelchairs for adults and children that are equipped with giant, balloon tires that glide over the fine sand. The chairs do require an adult to provide mobility but, nonetheless, these chairs will get you out to incredible scenery and remarkable views in comfort. I stay at the KOA campground in Alamosa. It offers spacious pull-through RV lots, plenty of paved paths to handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and full hookups, including fresh water and electricity. If you’re in Colorado, go check out the beauty at one of our nation’s largest sand dunes. Remember to reserve your chair ahead of time.
Good ‘ole Yellowstone. Yellowstone is one of the most iconic parks in the world. Those that haven’t visited it have read about it or at least seen it on National Geographic documentaries. Want to go and see Old Faithful? It’s easier now than ever. The park has made wheelchairs available at the main lodge so you can comfortably visit the geyser when it erupts roughly every hour during the day. Pathways that are accessible have made their way around the park offering access to everything from sightseeing to flyfishing. I found that nearly all campsites have at least one accessible site. If you really want to get outdoorsy, Yellowstone has made accommodations for mobility devices in their backcountry campsites. Make your dream come true. Go visit the land of wonders and amazement. The National Park Service has made a huge effort this century to make the park accessible and enjoyable for all.
At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,00 feet deep, the Grand Canyon is a spectacle to behold. You’d think that handicapped access to this amazing gorge would be impossible. The park will complement your experience by offering “smart” wheelchairs that have built-in guides that show all shuttle stops around the park that will conveniently return you to the park lodge and parking. Several wheel-chair accessible trails will take you to the South Rim where majestic views of the park abound. If you don’t want to get out of your car, the park offers people with mobility issues a special park pass https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm that grants folks permission to traverse normally off-limits roads around the park and soak up the sights that most visitors do not have access to.
There are many, accessible parks in the US, including national, state, county, and city. The last one I will mention for its accessibility is Acadia National Park in the great state of Maine. This park is one of the few that has miles of beachline on the east coast of the US. It’s rocky and rugged but has some of the most picturesque beaches in the country. One thing to note, you can view nearly all these scenes by wheelchair. You can stay at any one of the many KOA campgrounds around the state and you will find large pull-through and back-in RV lots with plenty of paved access around the campgrounds. The campground I stayed at provided reliable and easy access to 30- and 50-amp service and full hookups. Just imagine you can run your microwave, TV, and washer and dryer at the same time (if equipped with these appliances).
Top 5 Most Accessible, Wheelchair-Friendly National Parks
Here are a few things to consider when you are planning for your trip this next spring or summer: wide, paved paths that are accessible, parking lots with ample accessible parking, including extra-wide spots for mobility device vans, free accessible shuttles, and parks that have accessibility maps that show what sights and scenes are available to enjoy.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos Lic # 264549036
Social Security and Medicare
I’m not Social Security age, at 53, but I know plenty of folks who are, some of whom have varying degrees of disability. Most of these wonderful people started out apprehensive about their ability to afford an RVing lifestyle on a fixed budget, but quite a few of these folks have committed to the lifestyle change and made the change to RV life. Varying Social Security payments average between $18,000 and $35,000 a year, as of 2022. These days, those numbers seem on the low side. But look at it this way, without a house payment, the cost of commuting to and from work, and the kids out of University, RVing may not hit you as hard in the wallet as you may think. I would recommend you take a virtual trip to the Social Security website to make plans – http://www.ssa.gov. The folks that I’ve talked to at various RV parks and campgrounds have pretty much confirmed that if you plan and do it right you can live the RV life on a fixed budget.
If you’re on Medicare and RVing, you’re in great shape. You are covered nationally. Some plans may restrict you to certain states or regions, and that can be a problem. Nobody wants to drive across the country for medical care. The Affordable Care Act is also a viable option for folks traveling around the country. Keep in mind that the Individual Mandate has been overturned so you won’t be penalized for not having medical insurance.
Medications and Special Equipment
One challenge of living on the road is access to prescription medicine and special equipment. A little planning can go a long way to make sure you have your needs met if you’re out of pocket for a few weeks or months. As a Veteran, I fill my prescriptions through the VA pharmacy in Denver. I usually inform my doctor of my travels and he can get my medication filled in advance. You do need to verify in advance that all your meds (such as painkillers) can be filled in advance. It also would be wise to check state and local laws regarding which medications can be transported across state lines. Bring a copy of all prescriptions. If you have any medical issues while on the road, it will make things much easier for you and the medical providers that treat you while away from home.
While on travel, loss or damage of a prosthetic device, sensory aids, crutches, and wheelchairs can be a challenge. I know that the VA can ship your required special equipment from your primary care provider’s hospital or clinic to another VA clinic that is closer to your travel location. It’s best to check with your medical provider to see what processes they have in place to get your replacement medical devices as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Parking a 35-foot RV can be a challenge, but don’t let it be a barrier to your RV lifestyle. I have yet to see dedicated accessible parking spots for RVs; however, most RV sites are spacious enough to accommodate campers with disabilities. Now, that’s not to say that they don’t exist. While you travel make sure you equip your RV with either accessibility plates or a placard. As far as parking goes, my home state of Colorado has a weight and size restriction for oversize vehicle parking in accessible spots. My Class C is just too big, so I try to get creative when parking – legally of course. I’ve also noticed that Walmart is RV friendly, but if you want to park at Walmart keep in mind that you should park in an area that is not keeping shoppers from parking closer to the store. Go ahead and head in yourself. I’ve found out that most Walmart and Super-Walmart locations are well stocked with all your RV needs.
Pumping gas can be a bit of a challenge in an RV, either a motorhome or pull-behind. Don’t let that stress you out. A little planning and knowledge of the law can make your travels much smoother. Firstly, know the height of your RV. That can help you avoid making unintended contact with low-clearance bridges, tunnels, and gas station awnings. Look for oversized gas stations that serve semis. And, secondly, know the law. Gas stations are required to aid disabled folks with full-service gas pumping at no additional charge. Go to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website for details – https://www.ada.gov/gasserve.htm
Regardless of your mobility challenges, there is an RVing lifestyle out there for you. RV companies have fielded some of the most modern rigs that will meet your disability needs. National, state, and even local campgrounds and parks have been updated in the last twenty years to ensure you have access to the best views and all the amenities available to guests. Do not let your disability hold you back. Get out there and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the great outdoors.