Camping is a fun outdoor activity, and many people with the right equipment enjoy it year round. If you thought that you couldn’t go camping because it would be too difficult from a wheelchair or other assistive device, think again! There are many new assistive devices on the market, as well as accessible tents and other amenities that can get you enjoying the outdoors by yourself or with friends and family.
Depending upon your disability and comfort level, a tent may be used for overnight camping trips. While many of us have memories of lying in a sleeping bag in a tent as children, with nothing between us and the ground but a thin layer of canvas, today’s camper can be much more comfortable. There are air mattresses, foam or memory foam mattresses, and sleeping bags that can withstand the coldest of climates.
Tents have come a long way as well, providing campers in wheelchairs with large vestibule areas for a wheelchair and excess camping gear, zipperless pull enclosures on entrances and windows and flex pole and grommet assembly, making it easy for one person to put up the tent by themselves if necessary.
It is important to call ahead to a campsite to ensure that it is handicapped accessible (the ADA in the United States applies to all public campsites and campgrounds). Calling ahead can ensure a smooth check in process, and often times the managers will make sure that disabled campers are given campsite locations that are closer to showers and activity areas.
If sleeping in a tent doesn’t appeal to you, but you still want to enjoy the serenity of being close to nature, a cabin may fit the bill. Cabins are nice because they afford the camper more security at night, privacy, as well as more amenities. Many campsites provide cabins that have handicapped accessible ramps, kitchens and bathrooms that are designed for wheelchair users, as well as other considerations, such as wide doorways and beds that are at just the right height.
Before you rent a cabin, make sure that you discuss the accommodations with a person over the phone so that there are no surprises when you arrive. Occasionally cabins, as well as other rental properties, have an accessible ramp and handle grips in the shower, with little else that is actually designed for a person with a physical disability.
For some, traveling in a camper is the most comfortable way for them to travel. One of the pros to using a camper is that everything you may need can be taken with you, wherever you may go. There are many different sizes of campers, ranging from van-sized to campers that are twenty-feet or more in length. Many disabled travelers, as well as their family or caregivers, enjoy using an RV camper that is equipped with a bathroom so that they can avoid unsanitary public restrooms on their travels. In addition, a bed on board offers a comfortable place to rest when sitting for a long period of time becomes uncomfortable. Some RV retailers rent handicapped accessible campers; they can also provide modifications to new or used campers such as lifts, widening doorways and installing wheelchair accessible bathrooms and showers to individuals who are interested in buying one. The kitchen and common area can also be modified to any height required by the disabled traveler.
Camping Discounts and Organizations
Disabled campers can find assistance, as well as discounts, through several organizations in the United States and abroad. The following provide advice, financial assistance, and information on accessible camping:
- Handicapped Travel Club, Inc. – their motto is “Fun and Friendship”. First year application and dues are $12, $8 annually thereafter. The group hosts a number of rallies and special events each year. Disabled members include those who use wheelchairs, walkers, powerchairs and scooters.
- RVs for Handicapped – tips and advice on modifications and options on RVs for the disabled traveler.
- Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality - their mission is “to raise awareness of the needs of all travelers with disabilities, remove physical and attitudinal barriers to free access and expand travel opportunities in the United States and abroad.” They provide information to disabled travelers, caregivers and professionals in the travel industry.
- Gimp on the Go - provides an extensive list of travel products and services around the globe for the disabled traveler.
- Makoa - provides information on travel planning, travel companions, destinations, air travel and camps for disabled children.
- Independent Travel Club - offers “guided travel and vacation packages for adults with developmental disabilities and special needs, slow walkers, wheelchair travelers, their families and their friends.”
- Access Pass - residents of the United States can apply for an Access Pass (America the Beautiful pass card) that is valid at National Parks. Benefits include free entrance to the parks and discounts on group tours, campsites and boating. $10 application fee.
- Grants for Kids, UK – provides financial assistance for children and caregivers in the United Kingdom.
- 3 H Fund, UK - Helping Hands for Holidays provides financial assistance for disabled individuals traveling on holiday in the United Kingdom.