Authored by Mark Douglass, President and CEO of RVing Accessibility Group
To me, being limited to a wheelchair or other mobile device, is no big deal until it comes to traveling with our RV. It was not a big deal for my wife until traveling in our RV as I have always been very independent to the extent of being a fault. It was not long before we realized the frustrations and disappointments, not so much for me, but moreso for my wife as my caregiver.
You see, I was born with severe clubbed feet and my childhood was filled with corrective surgeries in an effort to help me walk normal someday, if at all. At 2-weeks old, I was already in casts. I had tendon transfer surgeries at age 2. I experienced Achilles tendon lengthening surgeries at 2, 5, 10 and 18 years of age. As I grew, my Achilles tendon would not. I became so familiar with wheelchair use that it was never a big deal, BUT we traveled by car and my parents were always there to help me. I did what I had to do to get around, whether it meant crawling or scooting on my behind to get to where I needed to get in the house. I learned at an early age that if I needed something, I got tired of asking for help, and just took the task on myself. I guess a good nickname would have been “scooter” back then.
Later in life, I retired on long term disability at age 47 due to recurring mobility limitations to the point I could no longer perform my job. I had a severe femoral fracture 10 years earlier, which I continue to have problems with, including IM rods breaking in 2003 and 2005. This also contributed to problems with my right foot, accelerating severe arthritis and ankle issues. As such, I spent nearly 14 years in and out of wheelchairs while RVing. While disabled, I provided workcamper duties at an RV resort, working from a wheelchair or scooter. While doing this, I had the opportunity to meet a number of customers who had their own disability issues. I was able to see from the customer service viewpoint how to handle customers with disabilities, which was a valuable experience.
Beginning in 2007, after our workcamping days, we decided to see what this country had to offer. Over a period of 4 years, we visited numerous RV parks, keeping notes on which parks we would or would not return to based on our personal experience of being limited to a wheelchair and the amount of accessibility and ease of mobility. There were many cases where we were told they had “handicap” RV sites, but upon arrival to the site, it was anything but “handicap” accessible. In my training by the National Center on Accessibility, I have learned NOT to use the word “handicap”, but I am using it in this article as the majority of the population still use this word and do not equate “handicap” with “accessible”. As a trained Accessiologist working with the RV industry, it is an honor to be able to provide technical assistance for those who need or want such assistance. We promote INCLUSION, not exclusion for fellow disabled camping population. As more and more campgrounds are looking for ways to help with this mission, more and more RVers with disabilities are back on the road again. It was not until I had a total ankle replacement in my right foot that provided the independence I had not experienced since 1997. It is not perfect, but amputation was an option that I had considered due to the pain. I still have nerve damage and femoral pain in my left leg, but it is what it is and I just take it in stride (no pun intended).
My wife, Ellie, had a vision of providing information on the internet in an effort to educate RVers with limited mobility on RV parks that provide accessibility so others would not have to find out the hard way where to stay. For 10 years I wondered what I should do while being permanently disabled. I have always been service oriented and active, and sitting around the house was not an option. It took 10 years to realize my calling to help others where I have been in an effort to enhance the awareness of recreational accessibility through education, example and experience to the RVing community. as well as the public and private community for RVers with limited mobility issues, be it age, injury, or illness. This is our mission and a personal passion of mine.
As a result, we started RVing Accessibility Group as an advocate and an educator for campers with disabilities and provide published information on accessible campgrounds. I became a trained accessiologist from training by the National Center on Accessibility, focused on Outdoor Recreation Areas, including campgrounds. I thought, after spending 14 years in and out of wheelchairs and scooters, I knew what was accessible, but I had no idea how much I did not know.
There has been a tremendous amount of scrutiny recently on outdoor recreation areas, with focus on campgrounds for people with disabilities, and standards for accessibility changing. We continue to examine campgrounds for accessibility so we can expand our website and help campers with limited mobility find suitable campgrounds where they can enjoy their stay without sacrificing dignity and independence. It is not unusual to visit 12 campgrounds to find 1 we can add to the website. This does not mean they are ADA compliant, but at least offer a level of accessibility that I would return to if I were limited to a wheelchair, or other mobility device.
While many of us think our lives are not so great, I believe that if we look around, we will always find others who may have it worse than we do, yet seem happy with life. So, keep you head high, because as bad as it may seem at times, Life is GOOD! And God is GOOD!
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