By Tony Barthel
With the growing number of people who enjoy the RV life, there is also a growing number of people who have physical challenges who also want to enjoy this wonderful way to see the USA.
There have been pathways for people who might be in a wheelchair or have other mobility challenges to custom-order RVs, but Winnebago realized how delayed these special orders can be and thus established regular production models that feature many of the accommodations that could offer greater travel options to more travelers.
As such, I looked at the Winnebago Inspire 34AE, a Class A diesel pusher based on the Freightliner XCS chassis. While it may not be apparent from the outside, this motorhome is designed to be accommodating for people in wheelchairs.
That starts with a large door on the side that can be opened remotely via a key fob or from the interior with a remote. There is a power lift mechanism that can lift an individual in a wheelchair into the coach, making ingress and egress possible and even easy.
For anyone not in a wheelchair, there is a traditional entry door just behind the larger door with a cover that drops down over the steps, giving the rig more floor space.
There are dual opposing slides in this rig with the camp side slide encompassing a huge wardrobe, washer-dryer, a residential refrigerator, the three-burner stove and kitchen countertops. Interestingly the kitchen sink remains stationary on sort of an “L” extension so it’s covered by the kitchen countertop when the slide is in but reveals itself when it’s out.
The main cabin area is really, really spacious and allows easy mobility for those in a wheelchair (or anyone for that matter). You could almost hold a barn dance in here when the slides are out.
In the cockpit are two “captain’s chairs” that can swivel around to face the main area plus a power sofa on the street side. That sofa can extend footrests or goes even further to become a bed, all at the touch of a button. It is directly opposite the wheelchair lift so there isn’t a TV facing the couch. This means you’ll be looking sideways if you want to watch the TV.
Beyond that is a dinette with an extendable table so you could have four individuals seated at the dinette itself plus a fifth individual at the edge of the extendable table who might access it from their wheelchair. It really makes a lot of sense the way this is done – in fact, it’s emblematic of the whole design of this. Clearly, Winnebago was listening to customers and delivered.
One thing to also note, the dinette’s two forward-facing positions plus one rear-facing position as well as the side-facing sofa all have seat belts – so this translates into seven belted seating positions in the coach. It’s important to take note that, in some states, you are only allowed to put people within certain age brackets into forward-facing seats. I learned this by losing a sale to a family who wanted to buy a Winnebago that only had side-facing seats for their kids.
In addition, there are four tie-downs in the main body of the coach so that you could secure an individual in a wheelchair safely.
Down the hallway is the bathroom on the street side of the coach. Winnebago has also thought this through with the whole floor being essentially the floor of the shower. The porcelain toilet has more than typical space around it and there are several grab handles in here as well. The road-side wall is reinforced to be able to mount a seat there.
It’s interesting how the floor is basically the shower pan for this and is completely flush with the floor of the motorhome. Winnebago has put a power drain in the floor to facilitate water removal and the showerhead is on a height-adjustable mount with a hand-held shower head.
To be quite honest, this would be how I’d want the showers in all RVs to be as it makes the bathroom essentially one huge shower… but not the claustrophobic wet bath of smaller RVs. It’s really my favorite part of this design but I think my wife would be knocking on the door wondering where I was if our RV had a bathroom like this. The answer to her question would be clear – solving the world’s problems one drop at a time.
Lastly, the bedroom has also undergone changes with the queen-sized bed being in the corner rather than a true walk-around. Normally I don’t like these, but this affords the ability to pull a wheelchair up along the side of the bed, so it makes perfect sense in this situation. The bed features a mattress with individual air adjustments for each occupant (assuming two occupants!) and the head can be raised and lowered, presumably to watch the second TV that’s in the bedroom directly opposite the mattress.
One of the things that struck me is that there is enough closet and drawer space in this rig for royalty – the entire camp-side wall is either cabinets or drawers. Imelda Marcos might have trouble finding enough shoes to fill all this space! Shoot. I think that reference dates me!
Some of the other changes Winnebago made to this is to lower the switches and controls so that someone in a wheelchair can easily access them. The whole floor of the coach is absolutely flat right up to and including the bathroom so there are no issues with anyone having full access to the coach.
While Winnebago does not offer hand controls for these, the ease of driving this coach means that you could go to the aftermarket to have them fitted. Other than that, the coach is ready right from the factory to be accommodating to people of almost any mobility level. Winnebago is to be commended on taking this approach.
The only things I see that might be challenges to someone in a wheelchair include that the microwave is above the stove where most folks might expect it to be, but I know this could be a challenge if you’re in a chair.
This coach does not have an oven at all and Winnebago has fitted drawers where you might normally expect to find an oven – meaning there is a tremendous amount of drawer space in the kitchen. I suspect you could argue that the microwave should be down here but there are probably as many people who would prefer having drawers where they could reach them. There’s not always a single answer to each question.
Of course, this coach is your typical Winnebago Class A diesel pusher in that it’s very nicely outfitted with materials and finish that you might expect in a rig of this caliber.
Winnebago also has a well-thought-out instrument panel for the driver with a digital display directly in front of the driver and a second one to their right in a wrap-around instrument panel. That second panel is the audio system and doubles as the back-up camera. None of this is surprising, but the execution is impressive.
Of course, being a Class A this offers all the advantages of that configuration including plentiful basement storage, plenty of water and wastewater capacity and that sort of thing.
Winnebago is to be commended for creating a coach that brings the joy of RV living to a group of people who might be overcoming challenges. While these coaches, like all RVs nowadays, are in short supply and are only available through La Mesa RV as of this writing, the fact that they’re available at all is a good thing.
These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.
I don’t recall seeing the answer to one question in my mind, are the counters low enough for the person in the wheel chair to access? Such as preparing something for a snack or meal?
You are right, the counters do seem to be at a US standard height of 36″ instead of a “universal design” height of 34″. There is a lot of counter space not reachable from a seated position. One other thing thing, check out the pic with the chair next to the bed. There is no way I could transfer from my chair (with cushion) UP into that bed…that would need modification. As an aside, this coach is very nice at 35+ feet long….keep in mind that if you plan on visiting National or State Parks, most have a length restriction of 30 feet. That does vary from park to park.
Anyone else notice that they used a foot operated toilet in the accessible bathroom?
Couldn’t Thetford design one with a wider base (for the side-to-side motion during a seating transfer) and use a push-button macerator system, instead?
The first time we took our, now 37 year old son, in an RV we had a very difficult time finding a place for his power wheelchair. At that point he was small enough for us to pick him and the chair up to get in the RV. He loved traveling. We started looking for an RV that would be accessible. Short of DIY there was nothing.I started calling manufacturers and reached dead ends, mostly of the $$$ type. Eventually, we had to quit rving with him. I so wish the RV community had been more willing to work with us. Fortunately, for the disabled, the past few years have shown an increased interest in the up and coming baby boomers’ needs.
I hope he has been able to find avenues for travel. I have been seeking out RVs that have some degree of accessibility if not being fully accessible to help share the information with you but also put the idea in more RV manufacturers minds.
Newmar actually offers a number of wheelchair accessible models – the big difference that I can see is that the Newmar ones allow full access without having to extend the slide outs. (Which is a BIG difference!!)) I also dislike that the entire bathroom floor gets wet during the shower.
While Winnebago is to be commended, Newmar has been building accessible models with most of these features in all their lines for years.
Finally ! Not only is this designed for handicapped individuals, it looks comfortable for those of us who are larger than average.
I hope that in coming “reviews,” the writer eventually gets a chance to spend a week in each unit, finding and pointing out shortcomings as well as “likes.” Otherwise, this is just a report/summary of the vehicle. It is not a critical review.
I would love that myself. Some of these, such as in this case, they are more reporting on a unit that’s available to make people aware. But I do try to spend time in as many units as possible so I can provide a critical review, especially with my dealer and warranty experience on these. I appreciate your input.