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Advice for getting an accessible vehicle

Side entry accessible vehicle

Your own accessible vehicle vs. taxis

Taxis can be an option but they can be unreliable. In some countries they are not available on demand at certain times. I believe that owning a vehicle would be better.

You also have to work around taxis. With your own accessible vehicle you have complete control of your departure time and have the freedom to change your mind about leaving. You sometimes have to rush to accommodate taxis.

If you don't travel often and taxis are easy to get you might be better off relying on taxis.

Who can get by without an accessible vehicle?

If your car has a big boot you could put a wheelchair in it if you're transferring into a seat. Some put the empty wheelchair into the front passenger seat or back seats. This is only possible with light wheelchairs and can be inconvenient for the people involved.

Vehicle types

You would typically choose between a minivan or a van. You need to decide how big you want your vehicle.

Space

A van may be more appropriate if you frequently take two people who need wheelchairs. If you frequently go on trips and take luggage a van might be the most suitable. If you have a big family or travel with lots of friends/colleagues a you could benefit from a bigger vehicle.

Another consideration would be the potential damage the wheelchair could do. If the space is small and the passenger is drunk or is not the best driver then they could do damage to the vehicle.

A minivan would be cheaper to purchase and run.

Back vs. side entry

I enter via the back into a van. I have no problems with side entries but I am more cautious about how much space I have Unless you're doing parallel parking frequently I believe that rear entry could be easier to get out of, especially if you go to malls frequently.

Many people store items in the boot such as spare tyres. For a rear entry vehicle this is not possible.

Number of side doors

If going with a van I would want doors on both sides as I believe that it is easier for carers/assistants if there's clear space on both sides of the wheelchair.

Who is driving?

Does the person in a wheelchair want to drive the vehicle? If so you are probably better off talking to a accessible vehicle specialist or an Occupational Therapist on what adaptations could be made to accommodate the driver.

Modifications could include getting hand controls and a steering knob so that drivers don't have to use their feet. In many cases the front seat is removable.

Another option is getting a seat that turns if you want to drive into the vehicle with your wheelchair and transfer into a seat.

Normally you would get a vehicle with automatic transmission vehicle but these are more expensive than their manual transmission counterparts.

Passenger considerations

If the wheelchair user is a passenger do you want a regular seat beside them? This might be useful if they get car sick and can't tend to themselves. If you're going on a long trip and they require feeding this may be a good option.

On the other hand a seat beside the wheelchair makes it more difficult to move around.

Specialized services

Before doing it yourself you may want to check if there are companies or organizations locally that assist with finding vehicles for wheelchair users.

Rear door

If operating the vehicle yourself as a wheelchair user you may want the electronics to open the rear door.

How much does a new accessible vehicle cost?

It ranges heavily between $40,000 and $100,000 USD. On the low end you would get a minivan with a fold up ramp. Vans and vehicles that require modifications to the driving area would be more expensive.

Can you buy or sell an accessible vehicle?

Usually adding accessibility features to a vehicle would lower its value which may be good news if you're buying but that would be bad news if you’re selling. If you really want a used accessible vehicle you could ask around disability support networks. Online listing sites may have them but you may want to get the vehicle inspected first.

Online listing sites may also sell accessories such as hoists or ramps.

What about modifying an old vehicle to be accessible?

Typically you wouldn't do this because you want the vehicle to last and altering the vehicle could double the price of a new vehicle. A better option could be purchasing an used accessible vehicle.

Funding

People in many countries can get funding for their basic vehicle accessibility requirements. You may want to ask local disability organizations or government agencies about funding.

Ramp or hoist

Many vehicles these use a ramp instead of a hoist. In many cases a ramp would be lighter, especially if it is manually operated.

You probably wouldn't want a manually operated ramp if you're driving the vehicle without somebody else with you. I believe that you would be better off with pressing buttons to operate it.

Ramps can either fold up in the interior of the vehicle or slide under the floor. The first could be inconvenient if you prefer more space but would be cheaper than an automated sliding ramp. For automated ramps ensure that they have a manual fallback otherwise you could be stuck if the battery dies.

One problem with some hoists is the entry only goes down if the ground is not level. This has caused me problems before. In some cases you have to move the van just for the hoist to go down completely.

Hoists come in different styles: Single arm, double arm and full body. My preference is full body hoists. This is probably because I have only had full body hoists on my vehicles so double arm hoists just seem different.

Tie downs

I like retractable tiedowns as I think they are easier on the person using and quicker to use. Buy some retractable tiedowns at Amazon.

If you regularly take two wheelchairs in your van it's possible that you will only get funding for one set of tiedowns.

For tie down points you can either use L-Tracks which might be good if you need some flexibility to position the wheelchair. Buy L Tracks at Amazon.

If you are using straps that need to be tightened instead of retractable tiedowns you could use these as tie down points.

Buy some tiedowns at Amazon.

Loading time

If loading time is a consideration then I believe that retractable tiedowns could be quicker, especially if permanently placed. In most cases a ramp would be quicker than a hoist.

Sometimes I find that it's too bothersome to get out for quick stops and this is why I am in favor of quick loading times. I also like leaving concerts earlier than everyone else to avoid delays due to traffic.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The act states that a rare entry accessible vehicle with a bi-fold ramp is compliant.

The door height opening of 56" or greater, a ramp width of at least 30", and finally a ramp angle of a 6:1 ratio or rise.

Floor modifications

For full sized vans or mini buses the floor is reinforced with plywood and floor applique is added.

Some vehicles can automatically lower the floor with a Power kneeling system which reduces the slope of the ramp.

Even if it's unnecessary to have a lower floor to use the ramp you may still need a permanent lowered floor to accommodate the height of the wheelchair.

Lowering the floor would generally make it noisier in the vehicle and be more affected by speed bumps. It may also require you to make modifications to the gas tank or fuel lines.

Testing

If you're going to test drive a vehicle it is important to trust your instincts. You might want to take some people who regularly travel with you for the test drive.

Letting people borrow your accessible vehicle

Family members may like the extra space of your vehicle and may want to borrow it. The risk with this is they can get into accidents. This isn't farfetched as multiple people including an ex partner have had accidents with the vehicles I use.

I am not saying don't lend people your vehicle but ensure that your covered and there's backup transport available.

Another drawback of lending your vehicle is some people will change things and not restore them. This could be an inconvenience to you or your carer. If the things that they change are difficult for you to adjust you may want to communicate that with them.

Electric vehicles

As of 2019 electric accessible vehicles are not common; many run on Diesel.

Mobility parking permit

You would typically put a mobility parking permit on the dashboard. You could hang it by the mirror too.

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