Latest update: September 15th, 2013
Having mobility issues can be challenging in many ways, from obtaining a proper wheelchair to navigating your environment. One of the biggest challenges is getting from origin to destination. Whether you have your own vehicle or need to rely on public transportation, you need to do research on what is the most appropriate accommodation.
Many major cities now have public transportation that is handicapped accessible, from city buses to taxis. However, most people find it very difficult to get around relying on this. The only practical alternative is to purchase a specially accommodated vehicle.
When shopping for mobility options, don’t be overwhelmed! There is a wide variety of options available.
The requirements these vehicles must meet will vary depending on an individual’s needs. Someone who can drive themselves, or who has the ability to transfer out of their wheelchair into a regular car seat will need a very different vehicle than someone who will always be a passenger and must remain in their wheelchair at all times.
It’s important that you consider your needs, or the needs of the person you’re caring for, not only today, but for the service life of the new vehicle, five or even seven years down the road. Can the person transfer from a wheelchair to a vehicle seat now, but might not be able to in the future? Can you afford to buy one vehicle that’s appropriate now and another one in a few years when that person’s needs have changed?
There’s no such thing as, “one size fits all”. Usually, when people shop for a new car, 99% of the population will comfortably fit into just about every vehicle offered. But the needs of wheelchair and scooter users are much more specific and extremely diverse. Because of the complexity of the choices available and the relatively high cost of these vehicles, families should do their homework carefully to find the right balance between features and price.
A good mobility dealer will serve as your personal mobility expert. It’s their role and responsibility to find the best mobility option to fit your needs, your lifestyle, and your budget. In order to do this, you’ll need to meet with your local mobility dealer in person to find the best available option to fit your family and the wheelchair user. You can either stop by the local dealership or they can schedule a time to visit you at your home.
If you do a search online, you will find a multitude of dealers who can be contacted online and in person. If you visit a local dealer, you can see, touch, and try out the vehicles. And they provide full support after the sale, which is an important service that the online dealers do not offer.
There are many considerations to take into account when deciding which type of vehicle to buy:
Size of wheelchair and wheelchair user – if the wheelchair itself is very large this determines the minimum size of vehicle needed.
Parking availability – Is there a driveway available or only on-street parking? Do you go to school/doctor appointments where parking is limited?
Size of family – Do you have a lot of other family members that also need to fit in the vehicle?
Seating – If an adult is the wheelchair user, would they be driving or be able to sit up front in the regular car seat next to the driver? If it is a child, you will need to put them in the back of the vehicle. There are a variety of vehicles available. Some are adapted with a special lift or ramp for bringing the person into the vehicle in their wheelchair. Others have regular car seats that swing out, enabling someone to transfer or be transferred from their wheelchair to a regular seat.
According to Dan Bussani of Bussani Mobility Team, there are a few different brands of minivans that are available already converted for handicapped access. The main difference between them is the size of the vehicle.
Conversion companies take the basic minivan from the manufacturer and adapt them for wheelchair or scooter accessibility to meet an individual’s daily transportation needs. Approximately 12-15,000 units are done a year.
The majority have side-entry access, with a manual or powered ramp.
There are also rear-entry access minivans which are a great solution for those who frequently travel to areas with tight parking situations. Rear entry access also allows regular seating on either side of the wheelchair, in addition to an optional bench seat in the back. However, be aware that, because of the ramp, there is very little cargo space and the additional seats might not accommodate adults comfortably.
The majority of modified minivans have lowered floors, which is a benefit to the wheelchair user but might make it more difficult for people in the back of the vehicle to navigate.
Full size vans
For those wheelchair or scooter users who might want or need a larger vehicle, a full-sized van that’s fitted with a powered wheelchair platform lift might be perfect. There are a variety of lifts available. If the person in the wheelchair is tall, or the chair itself very large, these vans can be fitted with extra-high doors for greater ease of use.
The term “wheelchair lift” can either refer to a system that lifts the empty wheelchair or scooter up and into the vehicle, or it can refer to a platform that lifts the wheelchair or scooter up and into the vehicle with the individual still in it. The kind you need will depend upon whether the wheelchair or scooter user is physically able to stand or transfer from their chair to the vehicle.
Wheelchair Lift and Scooter Lift Guide for Vans
There are a variety of different lift manufacturers. Most lifts have similar functions.
The UVL, or Under Vehicle Lift®, by Braun, is mounted underneath the vehicle, and remains out of sight and out of your way until needed. That means easy access for passengers who can walk unaided and cargo, a clear side view for the driver while traveling and maximum interior space for passengers.
Folding Platform Wheelchair Lift
This type of lift has a power tri-folding platform, which solves the problem of wheelchair access and entry for other passengers. Over half the van’s side door is available for easy access when the wheelchair lift is in the stowed position. Pushing a button quickly unfolds the platform, revealing a fully-functional wheelchair lift in a compact package. For additional passenger comfort, the front seat can recline fully – an attractive feature of wheelchair lifts that are mounted inside the vehicle.
The KlearVue™ lift from Ricon has a unique “fold-in-half” design. When the KlearVue™ lift is stowed, it provides an unobstructed side view for the driver, helping to eliminate hazardous blind spots, allows a clear view for the passengers, and is virtually unseen from outside. Plus, because the KlearVue™ platform folds when stowed, a raised-roof for the vehicle is not required – even when a long platform is necessary for larger wheelchairs and power scooters.
Side-Entry Wheelchair Lift
The Millennium Series by Braun has a strong, stable lifting platform. It has the standard side-entry platform, which facilitates boarding in tight parking situations.
Economical Wheelchair Lift
The Century Series has a simplified electrical system and is a full platform lift, which stows inside the vehicle. Its main drawback is that it takes up a lot of interior space.
Car-Top Carrier for Standard Folding Wheelchairs
If the individual is able to transfer to a car seat from a standard folding wheelchair, there is a specially designed storage container for the folded wheelchair that is designed to fit on the roof of a wide variety of cars. This frees up a lot of storage space inside the vehicle.
In order to secure the wheelchair and its occupant inside a van when it is in motion, you need to restrain it with a special device called a tie-down. There are several types available, from simple straps that attach to the wheelchair once it’s in place to a device called an EZ-lock that is bolted to the vehicle and then attached to the wheelchair.
Purchasing a vehicle
According to Dan Bussani, it is easier to buy a vehicle that has already been converted and is in a mobility specialist’s inventory. However, that limits your choice to what the dealer has in stock, in terms of color and other customizations. If you want to see and evaluate all of the options available from a particular dealer, it’s always best to visit the showroom in person rather than looking at pictures and descriptions of their vehicles online. If you’re looking for a better deal, ask the dealer if he has any older models in stock, but remember that in such cases you will have to settle for whatever he has on hand.
Bussani Mobility also has a wonderful option of renting the vehicle for a few days to try it out in their try-before-you-buy program.
There are two components which go into the total cost of the mobility vehicle, the base price of the original vehicle itself and the price of the mobility package including its installation. New converted minivans range in price from $40,000-$75,000 based on the optional items the customer desires. Full-size adapted vans range from $60,000-$70,000, also based on customer preferences.
Dan states that the mobility industry has made great strides over the past 40 years. Originally it only offered commercial full size vans which were cut open so that a lift could be installed. Today, there are many more options available, including smaller and more comfortable minivans with power ramps and built in tie downs.
This specialized industry is self-regulated by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association so the industry can monitor and regulate the modification of these vehicles. This enforces quality standards that meet government regulations.
The best ways to find dealers in your area are to search the Internet, network with other people who have bought an adapted vehicle, or visit the nearest Abilities Expo (again, do an Internet search for dates and locations). You can also visit www.nmeda.com and put in your zip code.
Web sites for Lift manufacturers:
Elisheva Stein is the mother of two special needs children and has been driving a handicapped accessible vehicle for 8 years.
About the Author:
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.