Accessible Vans & Mobility Modifications
Things to know about wheelchair accessible vehicles and how to modify your vehicle for mobility issues
If you use a wheelchair, getting out and about can be a challenge. Having a wheelchair accessible vehicle gives you great freedom as a passenger or even a driver. If you are not using a wheelchair, but you are looking for other aids or adaptations that allow you to drive, or simply ride in a vehicle more easily, there are many solutions to help.
Driver aids for mobility issues
Many people have mobility issues in their hands or feet that make driving difficult. Mobility driving aids can be added to virtually any vehicle to make it easier for you to operate the vehicle. The addition of a spinner knob to the steering wheel can make steering much easier using one hand. Hand controls can replace foot pedals for those with issues in their feet or legs.
For more complex mobility issues, high tech electronic driving controls be fitted to replace the full gamut of driving functions normally operated mechanically with your feet or hands. For most people, working with an occupational therapist or driving rehabilitation specialist is the best way to source the correct equipment, obtain a prescription when needed, and to access training to learn how to safely operate the vehicle.
Vehicle lifts for mobility equipment
If you need to transport your power wheelchair or scooter, a specialized mobility equipment lift may be retrofitted to your vehicle. These lifts are motorized to pick up the device and place it in your trunk, truck bed or back of your van for transportation. Not every vehicle can accommodate the lift. You will want to seek the advice of an adapted vehicle dealer for details.
If you own a larger full sized van, a hydraulic lift can be installed to carry the wheelchair and passenger into the vehicle. These types of lifts are used more commonly for commercial or public transportation vehicles.
Transfer and turning seats
If you find it difficult to get in and out of your seat, consider replacing the seat with a specialized adaptation seat that swivels, lowers and raises to provide easy access. Seats work in many different models of vehicles.
A transfer seat is an intermediary seat that allows a wheelchair user to transfer more easily from the wheelchair to the vehicle. This may be used for people who use a wheelchair but are able drive from the standard vehicle seat.
Safety and testing
Top manufacturers crash test their conversion designs to meet the highest safety standards including Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and CMVSS in Canada. Always check with the manufacturer or local dealer about the safety standards for the vehicle you may be interested in purchasing.
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Wheelchair van conversions
An accessible van conversion modifies the original vehicle to accommodate a wheelchair or mobility device. The most popular conversions are done on minivans because they are the most spacious and affordable passenger vehicles. To accommodate the height needed for a passenger in a wheelchair, the vehicle is modified with a lowered floor. The lowered floor may be throughout the vehicle in order to allow access to the front row seating, or the lowered floor may be only in part of the vehicle if access to the front row is not required. A ramp is included to allow easy access to the vehicle either through the side or rear of the vehicle. Wheelchair vans are most commonly available on Chrysler, Dodge and Toyota minivans.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wheelchair Vans
How much does a new wheelchair van cost?
A new wheelchair van conversion starts with the van (chassis), and that is roughly the same as if you were to purchase a minivan from a car dealership. Add to this the conversion price, which will run at a minimum of about $18,000 and can go to $40,000+ depending upon type of conversion, options and additional adaptation.
I don’t really know where to start, what should I do?
An occupational therapist, healthcare professional or specialized driving rehab specialist can all be great resources to assess your specific situation to help you make the best choice.
Should I buy a used wheelchair van?
It’s about the same decision as buying a used car. You will want to see the vehicle in person, try it out, go for a test drive and do your research on the model and the base van. A gently used wheelchair van can be a great investment, though, and some dealers buy and sell used van conversions and even include a warranty with the used van.