Vans seem to be perfect for handling wheelchairs and the people who use them.
The same adaptive equipment that allows cars to accommodate people with walking difficulties can be added to vans as well. Some of these devices have extra features especially for wheelers using vans. For example, the swivel seat that reaches out from a car door, actually reaches out and down to lift the person into the tall van. A fully-equipped van can be as accessible and as drivable as an equipped car.
A van, however, has an additional level of accessibility. There is the added option to get into the van without leaving the wheelchair. Vehicle seats can be juggled so the wheeler can sit in the wheelchair on the passenger side or the driver's side. There is room for passenger wheelchairs, too, and the option of jump seats that can flip up when not in use.
In order for a van to be wheelchair ready, it goes through a conversion that involves structural changes and additions. Conversions are made to full-size vans and minivans for side or rear entry. A full-size van with a side-entry ramp may require electric suspension to kneel so the ramp is not too steep, work on the support beam and relocating the fuel tank. Rear entry requires less structural work.
An electrically powered lift can move a chair or scooter from street level to the van and back again at the destination. Transfers from wheelchair to vehicle seat, while still an option, are no longer a requirement. The wheelchair is tied down, and a belt and shoulder harness adds safety.
Once in the van, there must be room to sit in the wheelchair comfortably with adequate head space. The van floor is lowered during the conversion, from 8 - 12 inches to ensure the line of vision through the windshield is not compromised. There may be need for the roof to be raised for adequate head room. Once the floor is lowered, the van may scrape the street when going over bumps or inclines like driveways.
Converting a van so it is wheelchair accessible involves many details. It should be completed by a professional to ensure safety.
Before you buy:
A van is a major purchase. Besides the cost of the van, there is the added cost of the conversion that might be up to $20,000. It is not a decision to be made lightly. Anyone with no experience would benefit from an evaluator's help to ensure the chosen van meets the needs and reduce the chances of an expensive mistake.
Do your research. There is some information on the Internet to help decide what particular equipment to add, and many dealers ready are to help. There are also sites that tell personal stories and opinions. These are valuable, but for every one that recommends a minivan, there is another that says full-sized vans are the way to go. Some recommend lifts while others say to rely on ramps. When you read these accounts, pay particular attention to the reasons for their decisions. Do those reasons apply to your lifestyle?
Dealers are usually helpful as you determine what you need and what you can spend. Try to see what seems to work for you. Check out the new and used vans that have already been converted. There are many places to rent a van which is one great way to try one out.
Decisions to be made include:
Brand - Almost every car manufacturer makes a van that can be converted.
Full-size van or minivan - A full-sized van is a truck and a minivan drives more like a car.
New or used - When buying used, consider the money you save against the maintenance costs of both the van and the conversion equipment. It may be difficult to find parts usable on an older van, so when buying used, it is recommended to buy a van less than three years old. A van and the adaptive equipment may last only five or ten years.
Lift or ramp - Some scooters will not fit on a standard lift, so there is no choice. Here is a case of frequently conflicting opinions. Some warn against the lift because the electronics are vulnerable to breaking down, leaving the wheeler in a bad position. However, others say there is rarely a problem with a two-post heavy duty lift.
Type of ramp - Side or rear entry, manual or electric, stored inside or outside of the van.
It is obvious there are many decisions to be made when purchasing a wheelchair accessible van. Take your time. Though not as convenient, there are other means of getting around besides owning your own van.
Mobility Aids Series Summary
Mobility is a key to living in this wide world, but when MS is in our lives, mobility is threatened and sometimes lost. Winston Churchill said "never, never, never, never give up." That certainly applies to mobility. As it falters, a mobility aid substitutes. When one method begins to wane, find another method to try.
When it becomes difficult to walk, use a cane, crutches, a foot brace, or even a walker. Be aware that inventors are adding a bit of science fiction into the future of walking aids. For some, that is still not enough. Walking is no longer an option, but mobility is not yet lost. Aids are still available, beginning with wheelchairs, scooters and power chairs. There are many adaptive devices to provide non-walkers with a level of mobility to participate in life.
If you choose to stay in or near your house, do it with mobility, walking with aid or using a wheelchair. If you choose to go beyond your house, city, or even country, you can do that, too. Public transportation, bolstered by the ADA, and privately owned cars and vans open the world to those of us with mobility problems. Very little is totally beyond our grasp. Enjoy it!
The National MS Society says "MS stops people from moving. We exist to make sure it doesn't." Mobility aids help to keep us moving on the way to "A World Free of MS."
Notes and Links:
This is a long list of links, separated into categories for convenience. Some of these sites are company specific, but they are included as examples only. I make no endorsements. Let's start with lifts and carriers:
Roof top lifts and storage - Tip Top Mobility and Roof Spider -
Next are links explaining the conversion process:
AMS Minivan conversions
ADA Adaptive Driving Technology -vans
Here is help selecting wheelchair accessible vans:
Guide to Selecting a Wheelchair Van
Here are some personal stories:
Wheelchair Driver - http://www.wheelchairdriver.com/
One person's experience - http://wheelchairvan.tripod.com/
Finally, if you're ready to try out they converted van with little financial investment, here are some van rental companies:
Wheelchair Getaways 1-800-642-2042
Premiere Accessible Van Rental 866-755-8267
Published On: November 18, 2009