How we built an accessible campervan

Converting a van into a camper is not an easy task, and is made a little bit more complicated when you have to consider any reasonable accommodations needed. We started our conversion journey in April 2021, when we bought Vanessa, the Ford Transit Custom.

The first step was to decide on the basic layout, which involved a lot of masking tape, measuring and a fancy Visio drawing. As The Driver is 5ft.10, and wanted to be able to lie out flat in the bed, we didn’t have too many choices about the layout! In the end, only one would work.

During the build and looking ahead to our big European trip, we were conscious to plan and build our van so that it would be as comfortable as possible for both of us. Due to my visual impairment, I had a few more accommodations than The Driver:

  • Darkness – Due to my eyes sensitivity to light, I need somewhere that I can darken so I can have an eye break
  • Brightness – In complete contrast to the first point, we wanted to keep the interiors as bright and airy as possible so it wasn’t too dark. This would keep it easy to navigate in the evenings
  • Lighting – completely adjustable lighting is key for any home we live in so I can change it to suit what my eyes need
  • Contrast – the side doors in and out of the van needed to have a contrasted edge on the step

With these requirements in mind, we set about building our tiny home. We built in the below four key elements, some of which were intentional decisions relating to my eye requirements, others just happened to be incredibly useful once we installed them.

We only put one window in the back

There are a huge variety of windows that you can choose to put into your van. Some are specific to the make or model, some are universal, some open and others don’t.

We chose a small, universal window that fully opened. It was also tinted, so didn’t let in loads of light and we kept some element of privacy. This had the dual function of letting light and air in when we needed it but it was small enough that it didn’t let in too much light. We only put one in the back to keep it as dark as possible. The side and back doors can also be opened to let in more light as we need it.

This image shows a small rectangular window in the side of the van. The window has a cream frame and the black out blind is pulled halfway down. Flowery bunting and small orb lights can be seen above
Our small side window with black out blind

Once we hit the road, I soon realised that I would be spending a good bit of time sitting in the cab, which is essentially a big, glass, light filled box. I began to find this pretty difficult with fatigue, eye strain and headaches so we made some small modifications while on the road. We bought and installed a layer of 65% transparency window tint to the passenger side window which reduced some of the glare. Only recently, we invested €3 in some black sun shades that are usually put on windows above child seats. These are working surprisingly well and are keeping the heat out as well as the light!

We kept the interiors white and neutral coloured

This was for aesthetic and design reasons as much as it was for eye comfort! In keeping the walls and cabinets bright, it helped with finding things and orientation in the dark evenings. We kept the counter and table top in a light brown and the cushions in green. The whole effect provides a nice calming environment while keeping it feeling light and airy.

This image looks into the back doors of the van. The doors are wide open with grey carpeting on the inside. The interior of the van shows two wooden benches, one on each side. They have long green couch cushions on them and the wood is painted white. The back of the front seats can be seen in the background White wooden cabinets are affixed to the walls, just under the wood panelled ceiling. A white narrow set of drawers is installed behind the passenger seats. The floor is brown plywood that is dirty and has white paint splatters on it.
The inside of our van, half packed before we headed off on our European Adventure

Our lighting is completely customisable and adjustable

This was a great decision if we do say so ourselves. Our ceiling spotlights are in rows of 2 and each set of 2 can be turned on or off. We have strip lighting under the kitchen wall presses which can be turned on, off and dimmed, which is great when you need extra light when cooking or reading packets. All of our lights are a warm shade, rather than bright blue LED lights as I find these easiest on my eyes.

Our window also came with a built in black out blind which allows us to adjust the light even further and black out as much or as little as we want.

A wood panelled ceiling can be seen with eight small silver spotlights inset in rows of two. The white kitchen cabinets and back of the front seats can also be seen.
Our ceiling spotlights

The edge of the steps in and out of the van are textured and in a contrasting colour

As well as protecting the edges of the steps and flooring from getting worn, the contrasted edge really helps to distinguish the edge of the van from the ground underneath. As the ground will always be different, having a consistent step edge, really gives me an extra bit of security as to where the edge of the step is.

The side door step into our van, viewed from above. The edge is brown rubber, which is darker than the light brown cork flooring. The ground outside is gravel.
The contrasted edge on the step into our side door of the van

Sometimes it is the simple things that make the biggest difference. These four small but crucial elements of our van make it as comfortable for me as it is for The Driver.

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