Wheelchair vans, large and small, have been with us for at least 40 years. They provide a convenient method of escaping the restrictions of public transportation for those of us who need adaptive vehicles, but they come up short in a couple of areas. Vans don’t do well on steep backcountry roads, and there are limits to how much you can haul inside them. If you want to go off-roading, haul bales of hay and sacks of livestock feed or pull a boat trailer over muddy roads, a pickup truck is the ideal mode of transportation. Another reason that people like pickups is they can see over surrounding traffic. Some people say they get a feeling of enhanced safety and even superiority over other drivers when they are sitting so high.
Until recently, there were not many options for people with paralysis who wanted to drive a pickup. With sufficient upper body strength, they could transfer themselves into the elevated cab, then pull their wheelchair in behind them. Today specialized vehicle manufacturers have recognized the need for alternatives to vans and sedans, so there are several models of modified pickup trucks available at prices comparable to adapted vans.
Saving Shoulders with Innovative Lifts
Rory Calhoun is a dedicated outdoorsman who has owned five pickups since 1985. The T12 para from Graham, Wash., says there are several reasons why he likes to drive trucks. For one, pickups have allowed him to haul his ATV in the truck bed while pulling his camping trailer or boat. But a problem has arisen because he has been using the “strongarm” loading method for almost three decades. Transferring into the driver’s seat of his pickups has done a number on his shoulders, so he will soon be exploring other options.
Manufacturers, including Bruno and Harmar, have addressed problems like Calhoun has experienced by offering modified seats or platforms that swing out and drop down to wheelchair seat level for transferring and elevating to the driver or passenger seats. Swingarm lifts that mount in the pickup bed, and are operated by remote control, utilize a long strap that hooks onto the empty wheelchair and places it in the back of the pickup or into a space behind the driver’s seat for travel.
For those who do not like their wheelchairs or scooters exposed to the elements while traveling, or who use a heavier powered mobility device, there are many choices now available. Looking at these vehicles from a distance does not reveal much sign of modification, if any. However, with the push of a button on a remote control, what appear to be the original doors open up in some innovative ways.
All-Terrain Conversions offers GM trucks with doors that swing straight out and up, like a clamshell, offering overhead shelter from the weather during the loading process. Jeff DeLeon, aT6 para from Villa Rica, Ga., had owned his ATC pickup for just four months at the time this was written, but he had already driven it 18,000 miles. A skilled hunter and fisherman, DeLeon can haul his track chair plus kayaks in the back of the truck while also pulling a trailer.
More Choices, More Options
For those who are tired of driving around parking lots looking for a suitable accessible space that will accommodate a wheelchair lift or ramp, MobilitySVM has an option that allows a wheelchair to load or unload in a space no wider than that needed to open a standard pickup door. The entire side of the cab slides outward and drops down, along with the lift.
Ryno Mobility uses a Braun Under Vehicle Lift, or UVL, on their pickup conversions to elevate and lower drivers or passengers seated in wheelchairs. This is technology that has been in use for some time and is similar to the actions found in wheelchair lift-equipped vans. Power doors swing outward, both front seats are removable and the UVL stows under the cab of the truck to protect it from weather while traveling.
Those who buy and drive these modified pickups do so for a variety of reasons, and many involve the outdoors. Robert Brush, a quad from Lakewood, Wash., is an avid fisherman. He needed something that could pull his boat trailer and haul plenty of gear. He drove his Ryno pickup conversion 25,000 miles in the first 18 months of owning it, often pulling a boat while getting great gas mileage.
Patrick McNeely, a para from West Virginia, originally purchased a Ryno pickup to use in his fishing guide service. Even though that business is no longer in existence, he continues to use the truck for travel throughout the country for hunting and fishing. Since McNeely is also a high school football and baseball coach, the pickup works well for hauling gear and pulling the equipment trailer or a boat.
We have not seen the last of new types of lift-equipped pickups becoming available, as the current manufacturers continue to make improvements that benefit their customers. At least one of the new products will originate from Allen Garrett, a C6 quad from Florida who has developed a prototype lift system that will stow the driver’s wheelchair in a weatherproof container before loading it into the back of the pickup. He hopes to have it for sale through his company, Access-Able Designs, in the near future.
For those in the market for a new vehicle, this is an exciting time. Lift-equipped pickups are available in two or four-wheel drive, light or heavy duty, and with gas or diesel engines, depending on the manufacturer. If you have been missing the feeling of traveling through mud puddles or simply want to see over surrounding traffic, it might be a great time to take that overdue test ride. You can find your nearest dealer at nmeda.com.
• Access-Able Designs, 877/853-7816; accessabledesigns.com
• All-Terrain Conversions, 260/758-2525; atconversions.com/new
• BraunAbility, 800/843-5438; www.braunability.com/wheelchair-lifts.cfm
• Mobility SVM, www.facebook.com/MobilitySVM; 877/659-1512
• Ryno Mobility, 800/799-4806; www.rynomobility.com
• Bruno Vehicle Lifts, bruno.com/vehicle-lifts-all-models.html
• Harmar Lifts, www.harmar.com
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, 866/948-8341; www.nmeda.com