Excerpted from Edmunds.com.
Picking the right type of vehicle for your disability and your lifestyle is important. It’s a decision that could have far-reaching effects on your health and your finances, and as such, it shouldn’t depend exclusively on your feelings regarding a vehicle’s image or appearance. For mobility-challenged drivers, function trumps form by a very wide margin.
Here are five questions to consider as you evaluate conversion vehicles.
1. How severe are your mobility challenges? The extent of your mobility challenges will play a major role in determining which vehicle type is the best match for your needs. For many disabled drivers who are able to get around without wheelchairs — and some who may rely on wheelchairs, but who have good upper-body strength — sedans, coupes or SUVs may be solid options.
The main advantage to choosing a sedan, coupe or SUV is financial. “Those solutions are less costly compared to a fully converted wheelchair-accessible van,” says Doug Eaton, president/CEO of Vantage Mobility.
Nick Gutwein, president of Braun, agrees. “It’s a personal decision for the customer, and certainly someone with minor mobility challenges may fare well in a sedan. It’s a decision for the individual, his or her family, and — we’d recommend — a decision made with the help of an expert at a mobility dealer. For individuals who have the necessary mobility to transfer, a specialty seat and scooter/wheelchair stowage lift can be a viable, less expensive option [than a conversion van].”
2. How important are practicality and convenience? Though they may be less visually appealing than other types of conversion vehicles, conversion vans and minivans offer superior practicality and convenience since they typically don’t require drivers to hoist themselves from wheelchairs to seats. This isn’t the case with many sedans, SUVs and coupes.
“Generally speaking, a minivan or van is more practical, particularly for those individuals in wheelchairs,” says Dave Hubbard, executive director and CEO of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, an organization dedicated to monitoring the safety and reliability of conversion vehicles. “[Drivers] do not have to transfer from a wheelchair to a seat, as they can drive from the wheelchair. Plus, the additional space is ideal. The wheelchair does not need to be broken down when storing in the vehicle.” This makes transferring from wheelchair to vehicle not only easier, but quicker as well.
3. Are you shopping for both current and future needs? Many mobility-challenged drivers have conditions — such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, etc. — that can result in diminishing strength and agility as the years go by. If you’re one of these drivers, it’s important to keep this in mind as you shop for a vehicle. Today, you may have the mobility to easily transfer to a sedan, but that may not be the case two or three years from now.
“We encourage our customers to consider both their present circumstance and future condition, as well,” says Gutwein. “This is an investment in a vehicle, so be honest with what is needed not just now, but two, five, 10 years down the road. Will you have the same strength and energy level? If you travel with a caregiver, will they still have the ability to help you transfer and stow your wheelchair or scooter? These are the critical questions to ask when making this decision.”
Also, keep in mind that while your disability may not be one that naturally worsens with time, it may be exacerbated over the years by the daily ritual of transferring from wheelchair to vehicle. “When you think about someone in a wheelchair transferring in and out of their chair multiple times a day to get in and out of a vehicle, it is taxing on the body,” says Eaton. “With a wheelchair-accessible minivan, they can remain in their chair without having to transfer.”
Gutwein offers a similar perspective. “It’s important to recognize that, over time, the wear-and-tear of months, years, maybe decades of transfers can result in very serious injury to the shoulders. That’s why we regularly hear customers say they wish they’d made the switch to an accessible van years ago. The only energy expended is to press a button, wait for the ramp to lower and then roll up and into your position. It’s just that easy.”
4. What’s the weather like? It’s important to consider how well-suited your potential new conversion vehicle is for use in your particular climate. Conversion vans have a key advantage over other vehicle types for those who regularly face rough weather, since they don’t require the driver to get out of or stow the wheelchair.
“Think about severe heat, or blistering cold,” says Eaton. “What about rain or snow?” With sedans, coupes and SUVs, “you are exposed to the elements that much longer when you have to get out of your wheelchair to transfer and then get your chair stowed.”
5. Have you gotten the help of a qualified mobility dealer? It’s impossible to overstate the importance of working with a qualified mobility dealer when deciding on a conversion vehicle. A mobility dealer knows the full range of options available to shoppers and is in a position to tell you which choices suit you best. This kind of knowledgeable guidance is essential if you hope to choose a vehicle that will serve as a useful companion both today and years into the future.
“Similar to a physical or occupational therapist, a mobility advisor will ask the right questions [and] take the right measurements,” says Gutwein. “Based on what a customer’s condition is and what they want out of their vehicle, they’ll prescribe the best mobility option. It’s an essential step to getting on the road to independence.”
Eaton also believes that a mobility dealer is an important part of the mix, and encourages shoppers to do their due diligence when selecting a dealer. “We always recommend that customers physically visit the mobility equipment dealer: see their showroom, [have them] demonstrate their products and put faces with names.”