adaptive mobility equipment Q&A: VEHICLE SELECTION 101
Prior to making an accessible vehicle purchase, the following should be considered: The size, dimensions and features of your wheelchair or scooter can greatly influence the vehicle and equipment that will work best for you and can therefore have a huge impact on the cost of your adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications. It is always preferable to contact a dealer and discuss your needs and desires for your vehicle prior to purchasing your wheelchair or scooter. If you already have your wheelchair or scooter, inform your dealer if you plan on buying a different one soon. This will allow your dealer to recommend adaptive equipment that will accomodate your current and future wheelchair or scooter. Below are questions you will want to be able to answer confidently before making your purchase:
Will I be using the vehicle independently or with full-time assistance?
The answer to this question will greatly change what vehicles and equipment will be appropriate for you. If you have full-time assistance, you can probably save money by buying manually operated products as opposed to automatic products. If you will be using the vehicle by yourself, your mobility dealer can help show you all of the products available to ensure your independence.
Will I be driving the vehicle with adaptive equipment or riding as a passenger?
Driving a vehicle with adaptive controls can vary from relatively simple and inexpensive modifications such as spinner knobs and hand controls to more complicated and sophisticated controls that could cost as much the vehicle. The process of driving a vehicle with adaptive controls is a serious matter and needs to be undertaken in a very thorough manner with which only industry professionals can help you.
How do I learn to drive from my wheelchair?
Many major rehabilitation centers offer complete driver evaluation programs, which are certified by their state’s department of motor vehicles. This includes a pre-driver evaluation, behind the wheel lessons and assistance in licensing. Pre-driver evaluations include testing eyesight, motor control, judgment and reaction time.
Driving programs stress that a consultation with your physician is necessary to make sure that you are physically and psychologically prepared for the driving experience. If you are evaluated too soon after your injury, there is the danger of recommending too much equipment and, consequently, spending money on adaptive equipment you will not need in the future. After a traumatic experience, such as a spinal cord injury, there is a great deal to relearn. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself too soon, even if you feel that you might be prepared.
Most driver evaluation programs utilize vehicles with hand controls and steering devices to instruct their clients. Most programs operate a fully modified van for people who drive from their wheelchairs. This van may have a raised top as well as a lowered floor. It may also have a powered cargo door and a remote control entry device.
After entering the vehicle, the evaluator can determine if you will drive from your wheelchair or from a power seat. The power seat base moves electrically into position next to you so that your transfer may be comfortable and safe. Generally, if you can transfer, you should drive from the van seat, which is bolted to the floor. If you cannot transfer, an electric wheelchair tie down can be added along with special stabilizing belts to secure you and your wheelchair behind the steering wheel.
Where and how am I going to use my accessible vehicle?
Consider issues such as road conditions in your usage area, weather, number of passengers and cargo weight and size requirements.
Where do I find adapted vehicles?
Most driver education programs have a list of adapted vehicle suppliers in your area. These companies will either modify a vehicle you already own or they will provide you with a complete modified vehicle. Too often, people go to the local auto dealership and buy whichever car or van the auto salesperson recommends without considering whether or not it can be modified for their needs. The auto salesperson may think he has the best vehicle on the market, but he usually does not understand as well as an adaptive equipment distributor a disabled person’s special needs.
Due to the cost of conversion, the time spent doing your homework will ultimately pay off in savings. Extras, such as middle captain’s chairs and front overhead consoles in vans, may go to waste if you purchase them from an auto dealer and then learn that they must be removed to adapt the vehicle.
The vehicle you purchase must have suspension that is heavy enough to accommodate the weight of conversion, your wheelchair and all of your occupants. A heavy-duty electrical system, heavy-duty service options and factory-installed power accessories are all important features to purchase on your van. Visit your local mobility dealer before making a vehicle purchase. In addition to knowing which vehicles are most easily modified, they often purchase many vehicles from dealers and know where to shop for the best buys. Some mobility dealers have demonstration or pre-owned vans that may suit your needs with little modification.
Do I want a full-size or a minivan?
Both full-size and minivans come in many shapes and sizes. If you will be driving from your wheelchair, additional questions will arise. You need to decide if you want a lowered floor, or a raised top and doors for entry. Because these options may involve removal of the gas tank and increasing the overall height of the vehicle, it is best to consult your mobility dealer before making any decisions.
Yes, of course. However, it is not recommended by a variety of industry leaders, such as the National Mobility Equipment Dealers’ Association (NMEDA), the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED), the Adaptive Driving Alliance (ADA) and others. There are so many considerations in purchasing an accessible vehicle– product fit, service, education and safety — that it would be nearly impossible to select the right vehicle for you without face-to-face interaction with a mobility professional and the interaction you would have with the vehicle you are considering purchasing. The few dollars you might save by buying an accessible vehicle on-line sight-unseen are hardly worth the trouble you may have when there is no one available to service it or assist you with any problems that may arise. To learn more about purchasing vehicles on-line, please click here to view NMEDA’s publication “Purchasing Adaptive Vehicles On Line.”