For their vacation planning, people with disabilities must rely on hotel information – when it comes to accessibility for instance – to be accurate and make sure the accommodations truly meet their needs. But what if you already had some bad experiences? Or what if there are simply no appropriate accommodations available in certain areas?
Gotthilf Lorch knows this situation all too well. "I travel a lot. I also travel to countries like Romania where there are hardly any accessible hotels," says the 54-year-old, who uses a power wheelchair because of birth defects caused by the drug thalidomide (Contergan). That’s why he wanted to have a travel trailer that is adapted to his specific needs. It was meant to make it possible for him to travel independently. But it’s not so easy to buy an accessible recreational vehicle (RV). "You can’t even buy a completely empty RV because the built-in furniture contributes to the vehicle’s design stability," explains Lorch. So Lorch started to search for a company that would customize a commercial travel trailer to fit his needs. He finally found the Wanner Company from Tübingen, Germany. Finally, things could get rolling:
To gain more space in the shower and to use the toilet, the wall to the bathroom was moved forward for example. The bed is also expandable to provide adequate space. Lorch made no changes to the kitchen because he usually travels with his wife or an assistant who cooks for him. The biggest problem for Lorch was getting in and out of the trailer. "We couldn’t install a wheelchair lift because that would have caused cracks in the frame of the trailer due to the overall weight," he explains. This is why he uses wheelchair ramps. However, they cannot be attached without assistance. "Hence, this is an area where I am not able to operate one hundred percent on my own."
Accessibility for rent?
Together with the Wanner Company, Lorch also showcased his caravan at a trade fair in Stuttgart. Many people without disabilities were also thrilled about the amount of space the RV has to offer. "Many of them said they would also like to buy a vehicle like this," Lorch remembers. Needless to say, it’s mostly people with disabilities who are interested in this type of travel trailer. Last year, Lorch received about 15 inquiries asking him if his RV is available to rent. And now this is his plan: "Traveling has always been important for me and I know that others feel the same way. That’s why in the future, I want to make my trailer available to other people with disabilities, so it is not just standing around without being used."
But there is a still a problem: insurance coverage. The travel trailer is insured through the vehicle that pulls it, but it’s only comprehensive insurance coverage. "Conventional recreational vehicles cost approximately 20,000 Euros, my trailer is worth 53,000 Euros. That’s why you need full comprehensive and collision coverage," says Lorch. But that can be very expensive. He currently pays 800 Euros per year. But even this type of insurance coverage makes rentals difficult because only persons officially authorized by the insurance carrier are allowed to ride in the vehicle. Lorch is currently still looking for alternative solutions. "Until I have found a solution, you are welcome to view the travel trailer at my place in Tübingen." He says he would not rent out his RV without personally meeting a party beforehand. After all, "No two types of disabilities are the same. You need to see if this is a good fit for the person and if his/her needs are truly met by thetravel trailer."
Obviously, not everyone loves to travel in a trailer. By now, especially larger tourism centers are becoming increasingly accessible – in hotels and their vicinity. Accessible trails to the beach are increasingly being set up for example. Or you can rent special accessible beach wheelchairs. But this solution is also not an option for everyone.
A roofed wicker beach chair (German: Strandkorb) for everyone
To expand the available options and services a little more, now there are accessible wicker beach chairs available. "The goal was to design a roofed wicker beach chair that also makes it possible for people with disabilities to enjoy the ocean and the beach with no stress," says Luna Baumgarten, Managing Partner at LoeL – Lotsen für erfahrbare Lebensräume (English: Guide to Accessible Living Spaces). "Our beach chairs have a ramp to provide easy access for a wheelchair, walker, stroller or lots of luggage for example." Since the wicker beach chair is wider than the typical German "strandkorb", it has enough floor space. Portholes provide more light and space in the beach basket.
"We can incorporate individual design ideas and customize the beach chair in collaboration with the customer. There is a fold-down table for example that people also like to use as a diaper changing table," says Baumgarten. The first ideas for the wicker beach chair were generated in May 2014 during an interdisciplinary student block week course in Cuxhaven, titled "WATT Innovatives – Tourismus 3.0". The initial project concept has now turned into a business model. Whether it’s private individuals, communities or wellness retreats – after consulting with Baumgarten and her colleagues, customers can see their individual preferences come to fruition.
The first wicker beach chairs can already be seen in Wolfsburg, Emden, Osnabrück, Hanover, Boltenhagen, Borkum and the Lüneburg Heath (German: Lüneburger Heide). "Our homepage shows where you can currently find our cross-generational beach chairs to test them out."
Whether it’s relaxing in a beach chair by the ocean or traveling the world in a recreational vehicle – what’s important is that people with disabilities are able to freely choose what option they prefer. The necessary auxiliary means simply need to be available. Then nothing gets in the way of a happy travel experience.