Winnebago’s Accessible Road Trip

Nerissa riding the lift on her accessible Winnebago

Watching travel shows, or reading articles on vacation destinations can’t take the place of being out in the real world. For many the open road has been an accessible challenge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 report, there are around 3.6 million people over the age of 15 who use a wheelchair, with an additional 11.6 million people using a cane, crutches or a walker.

For the last four decades, RV buyers have approached Winnebago Industries to customize their personal coaches to make them easier to use for their family members using wheelchairs, or others who have special mobility requirements. While the company serviced their requests, Winnebago has taken their commitment a step further with a product line that addressed 40 percent of the total floor plans for accessibility.

A Win for RV Wannabes with Winnebago’s New Wheelchair-Friendly RV Line

Winnebago now offers standardized floor plans with wheelchair lifts, roll-in showers, wider hallways and more. For those who use a wheelchair or have special mobility requirements, it is now possible to visit a dealer and actually see and experience the vehicle, when in the past, every order was a custom order. Customers can see first-hand how these new Class A AE coaches meet a broad range of unique needs and requirements that allow mobility challenged individuals to begin or continue living the RV lifestyle.

A welcome and needed travel option for these individuals, Winnebago now offers three accessibility-enhanced motorhomes, the Intent 30R AE, Adventurer 30T AE, and Forza 34T AE. These three new Class A motorhomes are produced at Winnebago’s production facility in Forest City, Iowa. All three offer standardized floor plans, and more importantly, these AE motorhomes are currently featured in the inventory at select dealer lots, including Lazy Days, Stoltzfus RV, and U.S. Adventure RV.

Real World Knowledge

To create the standard designs, Winnebago leveraged knowledge gained through fulfilling custom order requests over the past 40 years and designed these three standard AE models to accommodate the most common requests.

All floor plans feature a platform wheelchair lift with an 800-pound lifting capacity; expanded hallways; electric adjustable queen beds; thermostatically or remote-control roof vents; wall-mounted light and generator switches; and lower installation of the systems monitor panel.

There was also a lot of thought put into providing greater accessibility in bathroom areas. Each model features a large roll-in shower with an assist bar and available folding bench seat; extended lever faucet controls and adjustable shower head; raised toilet with assist bars; and a roll-under sink.

The new 2020 models, introduced in September at America’s Largest RV Show in Hershey, PA, now include remote controlled, air-assisted doors for wheelchair lifts. In addition, the new door provides an improved sound and thermal barrier. Should a power failure ever occur, this door can be easily opened manually. Additionally, the new Intent 30R AE includes a power Murphy bed providing additional living space when not in use, while the 2020 30T AE Adventurer boasts a sofa-bed, to accommodate additional passengers.

Beyond these standard options, further customization on a Winnebago AE RV is available, including bed and toilet height specification, placement of handrails, ceiling track system installation for mobility without a wheelchair, specific furniture requirements, cabinetry, and aesthetic changes.

Real World Experience

Regardless of the features, customer experience and satisfaction is the number one priority for the team at Winnebago. These vehicles reduce the need for extra planning related to out of town or local travel, provide more options for service animals, and give owners comfort in knowing they’ll always have a wheelchair-friendly bathroom and sleeping arrangement.

And for people like the Freeman family, the Winnebago AE was a literal life-changing method of travel. Always the outdoor adventurists, the family was dealt a tragic blow in 2013. Their 23-year-old son Patrick was hit by a car that was running a red light as he was crossing a Los Angeles city street. Patrick suffered a severe, traumatic brain injury and lost the use of his legs. The accident was devastating to both Patrick and his family.

Mike and Cheri and son Patrick Freeman in front of their Forza
Mike, Cheri and son Patrick Freeman in front of their Forza

After the accident, Mike Freeman and his wife Cheri moved to Southern California to support their son with his recovery and rehabilitation. Patrick’s mobility issues and the size of his wheelchair made any travel difficult, even with the accessibility van the family purchased. Long-distance trips proved extremely challenging and stressful. So, while taking care of his son and planning for future travel that could help support Patrick in his rehabilitation, Mike began searching for a vehicle that could more effectively accommodate their needs.

In March 2018, the family purchased a Forza 34T AE, which Winnebago custom-fitted with a motorized wheelchair lift, a roll-up door on the lift opening, and a specialized ceiling lift system to help Patrick move from one position to another. The Freemans also customized the bath with a relocated toilet and enlarged roll-in shower due to Patrick’s height; as well as customized bed placement with a power unit that raises the head of the bed so nurses can easily provide care.

Mike says acquiring the Forza was life-changing for Patrick and his family

“Before our accessibility-enhanced Winnebago, the thought of going on vacation was more stressful than just staying at home,” said Freeman. “Most people take for granted the ability to hop in a car, plane, train at will to take a vacation, visit friends and family, or explore a new destination. Our accessibility-enhanced RV has opened up a wider and richer world for our whole family and even makes day trips easier. We can leave the house with confidence and excitement rather than anxiety and stress. I hope more people like us will discover their freedom and adventure with Winnebago’s new offerings.”

In the summer of 2018, the Freemans traveled in the Forza from California back to Indiana, where Patrick was born and raised, and where most of his extended family lives.

“Taking this trip in the Forza helped with positive life activities,” Mike says. “Being back in Indiana, where most of our family is, and where Patrick grew up, he blossomed, his demeanor was better, and his cognition and ability to do things improved.”

Last summer, disability advocate and outdoor enthusiast Nerissa Cannon took a trip across the United States in an AE Winnebago with her partner of two and a half years, Kelsom Owens. More than an RV enthusiast, Nerissa is well-known for climbing, and with the help of 27 friends and fellow hikers, climbed to the summit of the 14,000-ft peak of Mount Bierstadt in Colorado.

Nerissa Cannon and Kelsom Owens
Nerissa Cannon and Kelsom Owens

Cannon’s journey, from the Winnebago factory in Forest City, Iowa to the No Barriers Summit in Lake Tahoe, California, covered 2,300 miles, six states, three national parks, and multiple states and federal recreation areas. The No Barriers Summit is a multi-day festival that motivates individuals of all capabilities to give their best to the world through inspiring speakers and accessible recreation. Participants choose from dozens of adaptive activities that help them and their families break through barriers and connect in new ways with a welcoming and inclusive community.

Traveling around the country, Cannon says, forced her well outside of her comfort zone. Activities like kayaking, hiking, and rock climbing—both with and without the aid of her wheelchair—helped her continue to push the boundaries of what she can accomplish.

“I discovered that RV travel fosters a sense of closeness and community that is unmatched in other methods of travel. One of the sweetest benefits on the trip was the togetherness and camaraderie I built with fellow travelers on the road. I often have uncertainty and a fear of being a burden on others, especially when I travel, but this innovative RV and the support and encouragement from the team at No Barriers allowed me to stand (pun intended) equal to those around me. In a world that doesn’t always feel designed for me, having a community of like-minded friends—and, on this trip, a comfortable place to inhabit while I adventured with loved ones—was priceless,” said Cannon.

Real World Innovation

“Our accessibility-enhanced customers are looking for the same freedom from home that many RV owners seek, and in many cases, the ability to travel is much more meaningful.,” said Ashis Bhattacharya, Vice President, Strategic Planning and Specialty Vehicles. “RV dealers across North America count on Winnebago for superior quality and innovation, and we look forward to making these options easier to stock and obtain as we understand options for accessibility that are available to drive off the lot are hard to find in the broader industry.”

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