I recently had the opportunity to spend some time checking out the Winnebago Roam AE, a recreational vehicle (RV) with wheelchair accessible features, at the La Mesa RV Center here in my hometown of Sanford, FL. I know from the feedback on my previous post about wheelchair accessible road trips that many of you are really interested in opportunities to explore the US — or even your own neighborhood – in an RV if at all possible. While it’s not suitable for absolutely everyone who uses a wheelchair, the Winnebago Roam has many accessible features that could make this a reality for many explorers with disabilities. Read below to learn more!
RV Life 101
Life on the road with an RV is a dream for many people. You get to explore new places, meet other like-minded people, become one with nature, all while bringing the comforts of home along with you. There are many unique aspects of RV life that bring this huge community together, and make it so appealing to a wide variety of people. SpaceWise explains that the RV lifestyle is suitable for all kinds of people, including nomads, remote workers, retirees, snowbirds, couples without kids, and small families. In addition, some RV dwellers choose to live in their motorhomes year-round, while others may only live in their RVs for a few weeks or months during certain times of the year.
It can be very exciting to wake up in a new place every day, have campfires with new friends, and not have to worry about finding an accessible hotel room every place you go. You can afford to be spontaneous and just head to a new destination without having to worry about where you’re going to stay or use the bathroom. There are some downsides and challenges, like finding a parking spot for your RV, taking care of all the hook ups for power and water and clean up for the toilet cassette, and finding places to buy groceries. There are also limits on storage and gas expenses to contend with.
RV life isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely an option to explore if you’re looking for outdoor adventures, as well as wheelchair accessibility and comfort you can bring with you to destinations where the availability of these things might be uncertain.
Why a Road Trip is a Great Option for Wheelchair Users
Road trips aren’t just one way that people get from one place to another; they’re a staple of American culture. They evolve from college students on pilgrimages to see their favorite bands to families visiting relatives for the holidays. The United States is one of the largest countries in the world, and while air travel is certainly still the fastest way to span it, road trips are the only way to really understand what America is all about. They’re also one of the easiest ways for wheelchair users to travel, and with some planning and preparation, accessible road trips can be truly amazing!
The best thing about a road trip in an accessible RV is that you get to bring many of the comforts of home with you, and all of your stuff stays in one place. If you have food sensitivities, then you can bring your favorite meals and snacks. You will always have your most comfortable pillow and blanket, and you can drive around in your pajamas without anyone being the wiser. You also don’t have to worry about having access to a toilet or shower that you can use, especially if you’re visiting friends who have homes that are not wheelchair accessible.
What is the Winnebago Roam AE?
The Roam is essentially a compact RV loaded with wheelchair accessible features designed to make travel easier for exploring locally or longer road trips. It has several adaptations and modifications like an under vehicle lift, push button controls, straps to make things more reachable, and lots of things to grab onto for transfers and support. The interior is also laid out in a way that makes it easier for a wheelchair user to maneuver.
How is the Winnebago Roam Wheelchair Accessible?
The Roam has numerous accessible features that make it easier for wheelchair users to travel on the road in comfort. Keep reading below for more details!
Braun Under Vehicle Lift (UVL)
Any accessible vehicle needs a reliable way for a wheelchair user to get in and out. The Winnebago Roam comes with a Braun under vehicle lift (UVL) that can be operated either with an attached pendant or an optional remote control. It has a 750 pound weight capacity, and is wide enough to accommodate most manual and electric wheelchairs. The UVL has sensors to prevent most errors in operation, and it stows away neatly underneath the chassis.
Powered Reclining Sofa Bed
When you’re on the road for long periods of time, it’s nice to have a place where you can rest and relax outside of your wheelchair. In the back of the Winnebago Roam, you’ll find an adjustable sofa that converts into a custom-sized flat bed. It has seat belts for safety if you want to sit and eat, stream some TV, or play video games while the van is in motion. There are push-button controls to adjust the sofa bed located at the rear of the van and also on the control panel by the dinette table. There’s also a convenient grab bar you can use for transfers, that also has a slot for sliding in a cupholder. The sofa bed is 26 inches high from the floor of the Roam.
The dinette area in the Winnebago Roam acts as an entertainment center and control center as well. It has a pop-up table that can be lifted up using a convenient strap. The table also has an extension to accommodate two people comfortably, including easy roll-under space for a wheelchair user. The Roam comes with a swiveling 24-inch television that can be used for streaming TV shows and movies, and has a USB and HDMI ports for game consoles.
Above the TV is a storage bin that can be pulled down by a wheelchair user, and there are other storage bins on either side of the bed area. To the left of the table is the control console, with push buttons for things like the water heater, the thermostat, and bed adjustments.
Toilet and Shower
The compact bathroom area in the Winnebago Roam contains a cassette-style toilet that swivels, making it more comfortable to transfer from your chair based on your preferred method, and to shower from a seated position (the toilet seat is 20 inches high from the bathroom floor). The shower head is handheld, and you can adjust the water temperature between hot and cold. There are grab bars next to the toilet and also next to the handheld shower head. There is also a rod overhead from which you can hang clothing for storage. The shower curtain is right behind a heavier enclosure that seals with magnets, preventing water from escaping. Please note that the floor of the shower is elevated 3 1/2 inches from the floor of the Roam, and has a very slight lip to prevent water spillage.
It’s really great to be able to take some food with you when you travel, especially if you have food allergies or are on a restricted diet. The galley area of the Roam has a 3 1/2 cubic square foot refrigerator, which is great for beverages and medication. The sink has an output capacity of 12 gallons of fresh water, and there’s plenty of storage available in three drawers, a drop-down basket, and a cubby to the right of the microwave. The counter holds a cutting board that slides out, and the window has a drop down shade.
Driver and Passenger Cab
The Winnebago Roam rides on a Dodge Ram chassis, and drives just like a minivan. It has a nine-speed automatic transmission, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, GPS, and a rear view camera that can look across three lanes of traffic. The very comfortable captain’s chairs swivel around 180°, and the base of the seats is 25 inches from the floor of the Roam. Hand controls are optional and can be installed in the Roam.
Q’Straint Tie Down System
Some wheelchair users prefer to stay in their chairs during travel, or just want to have a secure place to lock down their wheelchairs after transferring and while the vehicle is moving. The Winnebago Roam is equipped with four Q’Straint tie-down spots with retractable hooks and straps, as well as an adjustable seat belt.
Who is the Winnebago Roam RV Best For?
While the Winnebago Roam offers many wheelchair accessible features for people with different levels of disability, there are some travelers who will find it more appealing than others. It’s a compact-sized RV, so while it does allow you to camp and take cross country trips, you can also use it to see family and friends, drive around town, and go places that may not have been accessible for you before. The compact size is still important to keep in mind if you require a lot of clothing, medical equipment, or larger items to bring with you.
The Braun UVL is sturdy enough to accommodate most wheelchairs and their users with a capacity of 750 pounds. That being said, the interior may be a tight fit if two people are traveling and one of them is in a very large rehab-style power wheelchair. The sofa bed in the back of the Roam is a custom size to fit the van, but it’s closest to a double bed, and measures 5’10” at its widest point. Two average-sized (or smaller) adults can sleep together on it, but just be aware that it will be a tight fit and best for people who are used to camping in smaller tents.
The toilet and the captain’s chairs in the front of the room are relatively high off the floor. A wheelchair user would need to be able to stand and pivot, or at least take one step up for the toilet and shower. More strong and nimble manual wheelchair users might not have too much trouble making these transfers. Older travelers with less severe mobility limitations should be able to navigate these things as well. If a traveler in the Roam wants to use the microwave, they would need to be able to stand up in order to reach it above the sink.
An accessible RV is still an RV, so at least one traveler needs to be able to take care of all the necessities that go along with that, like electrical and water hook ups, cleaning out the toilet cassette, getting gas, buying groceries, etc. It is an expensive purchase; however, financing for an RV is different than a traditional vehicle. You can usually finance it for up to 20 years, allowing for a significantly smaller monthly payment. Winnebago is also introducing a pilot rental program for the Roam in Spring 2023 in select western US locations.
Ultimately, the Winnebago Roam RV is for the wheelchair traveler who has a sense of adventure, enjoys exploring new places, and wants an efficient, comfortable, and accessible way to get there. If you need something versatile that provides you with a bed and toilet you can use in a place where neither is a good option, then the Roam with its accessible features might just be your perfect fit.
For more information about the Winnebago Roam AE and to find a dealer near you, CLICK HERE!
Well done review. I’ve been following your recent posts on the Roam with great interest. We started investigating this Roam since it’s launch, though we were never able to touch & feel one so our interest waned. Your posts revived our interest, the transfer elevations had concerned us once Winnebago provded them for us. We are keen to see if this space is possible for my wife’s limitations, a “walking quad” with minimal hand function. She would use hand controls to help driving long distances, but would not use completely independently. We live in remote PacNorWest islands and will be making a day-trip to Seattle tomorrow to give one a roll-about test. 🤞💜