Wheelchair Accessible Vans
There are many different options available for vehicle conversions in today's market. Many makes, models and sizes of vans, mini-vans, lift systems and extra equipment adaptations are now available to the general consumer. But the two most important considerations a family must make before looking at ANY of these options is the safety of the vehicle and the safety of the seating system the disabled family member will be using.
Handicap accessible vehicles are costly. Families must make the best-informed choice for their own specific situation and budget. Be aware, not all conversion vendors and products will meet good safety standards. Any time a vendor makes alterations to a vehicle, especially the vehicle frame, it can weaken the frame at that point and create a safety danger in accident situations. We recommend visiting www.nmeda.org for industry safety standards and doing some homework before choosing a conversion system and an installation vendor.
**Note: Be sure to check with your state Consumer Protection Agency before choosing a vendor. Work with a vendor who exercises good business practices and has the highest safety record to ensure the safety of your family while driving.
- EVALUATION - It is important to first evaluate your current vehicle, your child (and his/her physical condition), and their wheelchair for "transportation change" requirements. There are several specific steps for this process listed below:
- Acquire a referral from your child's pediatrician for a "transportation change evaluation".
- Contact your insurance company and get a pre-authorization for a "transportation change evaluation" to be performed by a trained Occupational Therapist. Preferably one that has experience in evaluating vehicles and equipment for safe operation.
- Make your appointment, then keep it.
- During this evaluation appointment you need to discuss with the therapist the following:
- Type of vehicle you currently own versus the vehicle you are thinking of purchasing.
- Will the current vehicle accommodate the lift conversion you are considering for purchase?
- Who else will be in the vehicle besides the wheelchair occupant?
- Number of additional passengers. Be sure to count the MAXIMUM number of persons who would travel with you, even if only on occasion. Space for friends, extended family, respite providers, etc. is very important. Every person who rides in the vehicle must be in a seat belt. Often children with physical handicaps will travel in a bucket seat outfitted with a seatbelt or harness rather than their wheelchair. This provides a safer, more supported mode of travel for many. The wheelchair is secured by a wheelchair tie-down system ideally directly next to them leaving room for an attendant to assist them in transferring to and from the wheelchair. Be sure to leave space for the wheelchair when making your seat count.
- Towing or not towing?
- Family size
- Cargo needs
- Seating configuration (Where are others going to be seated?) THE MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION WHEN EVALUATING A VEHICLE IS WHERE WILL YOUR CHILD BE SITTING AND WHERE THE WHEELCHAIR NEEDS TO GO.
- If you need to purchase a large van remember that the maximum "bounce force" is in the back area behind the rear axle. Persons sitting in that zone generally get tossed around quite a bit. Any individual needing to remain in their wheelchair during travel should be seated BETWEEN the front and rear axles as this zone of the vehicle is the most stable and produces the least amount of "bounce" when going over bumps and road hazards. Whiplash is a common injury seen in individuals with either increased or decreased muscle tone. We recommend the individual be in the FORWARD-FACING position in the passenger area for travel. (See www.nmeda.org for industry safety standards.)
- Upon completion of the evaluation, the therapist will provide you with a letter of recommendation. Be sure to make several copies of this letter, keeping the original on file. It will be helpful at this stage to acquire a doctor's prescription for the equipment as specified by the Occupational Therapist in their report/letter.
PURCHASING A NEW VEHICLE (if needed): The primary cost of the vehicle is the responsibility of the family. Before making a vehicle purchase decision visit several of the Lift Conversion Dealers/Installers in your area! Find out what options are available. The lift required to accommodate your medical equipment will determine if you are able to use your current vehicle or if you will need to purchase a different make/model.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE NOT ALL LIFT SYSTEMS WILL FIT ALL VEHICLES. DO NOT PURCHASE A VEHICLE WITHOUT CHECKING WITH YOUR QUALIFIED INSTALLER TO SEE IF THE LIFT SYSTEM WILL WORK IN THE VEHICLE YOU'VE CHOSEN FIRST. ONLY A QUALIFIED INSTALLER CAN TELL YOU IF THE EQUIPMENT YOU NEED WILL WORK WITH THE VEHICLE YOU HAVE OR ARE THINKING TO PURCHASE.
- If your current vehicle cannot support a lift or you need to purchase a new vehicle to accommodate a specific lift system, there are several avenues to consider:
- Purchase the vehicle outright if you can possibly afford it.
- Shop interest rates. Obviously the most preferable is 0%. Watch for year-end fleet sales (September/October) when this rate is most likely to be offered.
- Look for dealerships with assistance programs. It is necessary to ASK about available assistance programs because not all dealerships provide them nor do they promote them. Call the sales manager to see if the dealership has such a program.
- There may be state or private foundations in your area that will assist in vehicle loans. (Shop the interest rates!� It has been Linda's experience that working directly with a dealership is often a much better option. Her dealership beat the local assistive technology foundation by 6.5%. THAT'S A LOT!!)
- Dealership financing.
- Fund raising to offset some of the cost of the new vehicle.
LIFT: Once you've got the vehicle, you will need to acquire the lift. While the vehicle expense is the owner's responsibility the additional cost of needed conversions can often be funded through various assistance programs
Other options for funding are:
- Personal funds.
- Apply to assisted living or assistive technology foundations for lift conversion grants. Agencies may be state or privately funded foundations. These will differ from state to state. You will need to contact foundations in your area for their specific funding requirements. (see "RESOURCE LINKS") No foundation will release funds for approved grants to purchase and pay for a lift conversion if you do not already own the vehicle which is to be converted. This can mean being on a waiting list and missing funding if you are not prepared. It is important to keep the foundation constantly updated on your vehicle situation. In some instances they may reserve funds if you are close to purchasing your vehicle.
- Personal loan from a local financial institution.
- Fund raising. (See the "Flamingo Air" Project)
If your situation changes and you think you may qualify for a grant for which you were previously denied, RE-APPLY!!!
Persistence and patience are the biggest keys to success!
**REMEMBER NOT ALL VEHICLES CAN BE ADAPTED FOR A LIFT. MAKE NO VEHICLE OR EQUIPMENT PURCHASES WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING WITH A QUALIFIED INSTALLER/DEALER.
One last note. You will need to check with your insurance company for any possible coverage you may need to add to insure a new vehicle lift conversion. Many Insurance companies require a separate rider policy for expensive lift equipment as this is equipment ADDED to the vehicle and not covered by regular insurance policies. This does vary by company so call your Agent and ASK! Make sure both your vehicle and the lift equipment are insured. Don't wait for an accident to find out your lift isn't considered "stock equipment" and, therefore, not covered by your insurance policy. When in doubt, ASK!
If you have any questions regarding transportation issues or vehicle lift conversions, please contact us!