Travel is Now More Accessible with the Winnebago Roam
By Michelle Colvard, Abilities Expo Ambassador
Our family loves traveling—but travel always carries a few extra challenges due to my use of a wheelchair.
For those of us who use wheelchairs, travel requires a lot of logistical coordination. Air travel can be difficult due to the inaccessibility of airplanes. When I fly, I must be strapped into a confining aisle chair like Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs just to get to my airplane seat, severely restrict my food and water intake because bathrooms are inaccessible and experience the embarrassment and hassle of long waits for security pat-downs. I also experience the
constant worry that rough baggage handlers will break my wheelchair and I won't have a way to fix it when I get to my destination.
Beyond the challenges of air travel, hotels are not always wheelchair accessible, and finding accessible restrooms on long road trips can sometimes be impossible. Getting out to enjoy the great outdoors in campsites can also be challenging, as some campsites are not accessible, and sleeping on the ground in a tent is very difficult for most wheelchair users.
Winnebago Actively Sought Disability Community Input in Creating New Class B RV
When the pandemic began, our family looked for safer ways for us to enjoy adventures. We wanted to experience the outdoors and national parks. We began rethinking air travel. We also questioned whether there was a better and more accessible way for us to enjoy road trips. A recreational vehicle (RV) seemed like it could present the answer to these challenges, but the larger Class A wheelchair-accessible RVs were out of our reach. A wheelchair accessible Class B model didn't appear to exist or required a customized build.
My husband and I were looking at the Winnebago Solis, and thought that maybe it could be converted into an accessible RV. My husband emailed Winnebago and was surprised to receive a response back in less than 48 hours! We learned that they were already thinking
about an accessible camper van. The Winnebago team asked for our feedback and suggestions—along with other wheelchair users—and
after almost two years, the Winnebago Roam, a wheelchair-friendly Class B RV, was the result!
Our family was fortunate to be asked by Winnebago to try the new wheelchair-friendly Winnebago Roam and we enjoyed many adventures from March through May 2022.
Blazing New Accessible Trails with the Winnebago Roam
The Winnebago Roam fit right into our family's lifestyle. The wheelchair lift was easy enough to operate that my six-year-old daughter designated herself in charge of raising and lowering it (even though I could do it myself).
The rear bench seat that my daughter used during the drive turns into a comfortable bed with the flip of a switch. A table pulls out over my wheelchair for easy use. For driving, my wheelchair is strapped in with Q'straints, and the driver and passenger seat chairs swivel so that I can transfer from my wheelchair. The restroom was wide enough for me to pull my wheelchair up alongside and transfer; an attractive curtain provides sufficient privacy but does not inhibit access like a door.
During our daughter's spring break, we took the Roam on an ambitious road trip from Houston to the Grand Canyon and back. My husband planned an incredible route.
One of our first stops in our epic road trip was to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, so that we could visit some close friends on their little farm. The horses, goats, dogs, and chickens even checked out the Roam. (We think they approved.)
From New Mexico, we drove north to Arizona, where we stayed for two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and RV Park. We took a train into the Grand Canyon and explored the South Rim.
One of America's Most Scenic Destinations Surprisingly Accessible
We had never been to the Grand Canyon before, and words and pictures just don't do it justice. Seeing our daughter's face as we approached the railing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and looked out into the gigantic basin was priceless.
We were pleasantly surprised at how navigable the trails along the Grand Canyon are for a wheelchair user. The weather was cool and clear, and snow dotted the trail—to the delight of our native Texan daughter.
We also camped inside the Grand Canyon National Park at a RV park where giant elk freely roamed. We explored more of the Grand Canyon—including the stunning view from Mather's Point Overlook. We also explored Hopi House, our daughter earned her National ParkJunior Ranger badge, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal at El Tovar restaurant. We had the optional pop-top on the Roam, which provided additional sleeping space. Typically, my young daughter and I used the sofa bed while my husband found the pop-top a very comfortable place to sleep. Our daughter is excited to sleep in the pop-top when she gets just a little older.
Upon leaving the Grand Canyon, we traveled south towards Sedona, from Historic Route 66 to 89A. We drove through Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive at Coconino National Forest—which is a 14-mile stretch of breathtaking mountain ridges. There was much beauty to behold everywhere we looked—lush foliage, creeks with crystal clear water, and layers upon layers of colorful mountains. We felt fortunate to be able to experience this drive in the Winnebago Roam, as a larger RV would not have been able to navigate the steep crimson cliffs, hairpin turns and switchbacks along the narrow, twisty mountain path.
Roam Accessibility Features Prove Key for Wheelchair Users
We felt even more fortunate when our daughter informed us that she needed to stop for a bathroom break, as we had not seen any restrooms. We simply pulled onto the side of the road and she used the Roam's bathroom. The peace of mind from having a restroom so readily available is invaluable, as any
wheelchair user or parent especially understands.
In Arizona, we hiked at the Crescent Moon Ranch at Red River Crossing and visited the Heritage Park Zoo, a wildlife refuge. We stayed at various RV parks along the way back home to Houston and enjoyed the freedom of being able to go wherever we wanted and being surrounded by nature's beauty.
We explored the Montezuma Castle National Park. It was so easy to drive the Winnebago Roam and navigate parking lots. We also visited Carlsbad Caverns which had a fairly long wheelchair-accessible path.
Through all the miles, our daughter was a trooper. She read books about the Grand Canyon and the New Mexico desert and learned more about geology and biology than she could have learned in a school classroom in a year. It was an absolute dream of a road trip. Along with our big road trip to the Grand Canyon, we enjoyed many other adventures in the Winnebago Roam.
A Wheeler's Ideal Vehicle for Day Trips and In-Town Experiences
We found that the Winnebago Roam was also excellent for shorter, local excursions. We took a day trip to Galveston Beach, where we were conveniently able to park it right along the seawall and let the wheelchair lift down. We also took the ferry out to Galveston Island with our sweet dog Lola.
We took a second trip out to Galveston Beach and camped overnight, enjoying the warm water of Galveston Bay and clear blue skies.
We took a drive out far north of Houston and took the quintessential pictures of our family in fields of bluebonnets. We took the Roam as we explored urban art around Houston, including the many murals in the Greater Heights area.
We drove the Roam everywhere, including to a go-karting facility. And because the Roam fits into a regular parking spot, we were able to take it around our neighborhood to get ice cream and to go to the library.
For those of us who use wheelchairs, the Winnebago Roam is truly a crucial step towards increasing access to the great outdoors and beyond. While it may not be the perfect solution for everyone, or meet everyone's needs, it certainly opened up a world of opportunities for our little family.
My husband and I are genuinely impressed that Winnebago, a company that has been building amazing RVs for over 60 years, continues to be an innovation leader and listens to the needs of its customers—including wheelchair users. I love that Winnebago met with us regularly, heard our feedback, and then incorporated our ideas into the development of the Roam in a collaborative process. We felt truly heard and included in the design process and the sincerity of those we worked with was clear. It must also be said that the Roam could not have been possible without the support of leaders at the top of Winnebago.
To all at Winnebago who made these adventures possible for our family, we say a heartfelt, "thank you!" Thank you for making it possible for me to enjoy the outdoors with my family and to enjoy road trips and travel without the hassle unique to wheelchair-users.
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