All wheelchair vans are not created equally.
The first thing someone needs to know when buying a wheelchair-accessible vehicle is that not all mobility products serve the same level of needs, desires, functions and quality. The most popular mobility solution is the lowered floor. Only a couple of large national manufacturers and several smaller regional manufacturing companies design, fabricate and install the lowered floor.
A manufacturer should provide:
• Constant research and development; to provide the latest in mobility solutions, with quality upgrades.
• Continual safety testing and crash testing; to ensure secure transportation without an unnecessary safety risk.
• Full compliance with all government and industry standards.
With more than 15,000 vans sold annually, most manufactures learn quickly which products work well and which do not. Many national dealers can offer more locations with factory-trained technician and often higher resale and trade-in value. Smaller dealers may offer more personalized and specialized local service. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. It is most important to purchase from a dealer you can trust with absolute confidence in the quality of the product manufactured.
Finding a mobility dealer. An individual looking for a wheelchair-accessible van could spend hours trying to find a mobility dealer. Often when they do find a dealer, that dealer does not offer enough options nor has the inventory available to them to match the wheelchair user’s needs, desires or budget.
Here are some questions to use to determine whether or not you want to do business with a specific dealer.
• Can the dealership provide an option from more than one manufacturer?
• It is better to have several options available, so that you can find a van that meets your needs.
• Is your dealership QAP certified?
• QAP stands for “Quality Assurance Program.” QAP is the highest level of certification provided by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. When you work with a dealer that is QAP certified, you are assured of that dealer’s workmanship and integrity through the association.
• Have your service technicians been factory trained and certified?
• Factory-trained and certified technicians ensure that the wheelchair-accessible van you buy has been thoroughly inspected. It also ensures that any additional modifications like hand controls, power tie downs, transfer seats or electronic driving controls will be installed to factory specifications, which in turn meet all government standards.
• Have your mobility consultants been factory-trained and certified?
• Factory-trained and certified mobility consultants ensure unbiased information based on your needs, not what they have to sell. Factory-trained consultants take the time to learn about your situation and will offer options that will best meet your needs.
Which van is correct for my needs?
You have researched the manufacturers and the conversions they offer. You have also checked to be sure that the dealership you are working with needs the requirements set forth by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. Now it is time to start to determine which van is correct for your needs. When working with a mobility consultant they will ask questions about if you plan to be a driver, passenger or if it is a caregiver situation. This will determine which conversion may work best not only for today but if the medical condition changes in the future, will it still meet your needs at that time? You will have the option of a side or rear-entry conversion, again determine which will best meet your needs. Also you can decide if you want a power or a manual conversion.
One of the next most important questions is how tall you or your passengers sits in the wheelchair or scooter. This will greatly affect the ability to comfortably enter and exit the vehicle. In some cases this opening height may not be an issue, but keep in mind that as power chairs continue to get larger, will someone still comfortably fit through the door? Future resale of a van can also be affected by height and accessibility issues.
If you have decided on side-entry conversion, you will have the option of in-floor or folding ramp. Both conversion will allow someone in a wheelchair to be secured in the mid-section, in the passengers’ seat area or if they plan on driving, in that position. A folding style of ramp allows for higher sides to the ramp. This can offer assurance to someone who is not accustomed to going in and out of a lowered floor van. It does have a few drawbacks that include an obstructed doorway, possible conflicts if the person is sitting in the passengers’ seat area and potential noise from the ramp rattling. There is a very reliable and popular in-floor conversion option. This allows for an unobstructed doorway for ambulatory passengers to freely exit the van without deploying the ramp. It also has no space limitations in the passengers’ seat area. They also include a system called Sure Deploy which is a power ramp backup system. This allows the ramp to be powered in or out of the van in the rare occurrence that something was to happen to the normal door and ramp operation.
If through this consultant period you have decided that a rear-entry conversion will meet your needs the best, again you will have some options to decide on. They will include a power or manual conversion. If your mobility consultant has done his job correctly the decision about which conversion will work best for you should be an easy choice.
My final thoughts. In today’s information age, there is no reason why everyone can’t enjoy all the benefits of a wheelchair-accessible van. As the baby boomer generation ages, more are turning to a lowered floor minivan to transport wheelchairs or scooters. What a wonderful lifestyle these vehicles are providing to thousands of people around the country. I hope that you to take your time, look at all options and find the van that is right for you.
Some companies offer lowered floor vans that you can rent. Renting a van allows you to get a loved one out for the day, to transport them to doctors’ appointments, weddings, family reunions or vacations.
I would encourage you to contact a certified mobility consultant today. You will be surprised how easy it is to gain the freedom to do the things you have always loved.
I hope this information will be helpful as you search for a wheelchair-accessible van.
Ron Iverson is the general manager of IMED Mobility, Roseville.