Wheelchair vans are often needed by families who have children with disAbilities. Vehicles with special features are available and/or can be converted to accommodate them. The most important step is to start with an appointment with a mobility specialist.
Here are a few facts needed to help determine which accessible option best fits the needs of your child and your family.
The Child’s Size
A mobility consultant should be incredibly thorough in compiling the details such as wheelchair width and height, your child’s height while seated in the wheelchair, and other essential information, which should help identify the perfect van for your family.
Your child’s age and size are factors, too. If your child is young/small the vehicle that they easily fit into now could possibly be out grown. It is important to not only think of their needs now, but also to keep in mind that their needs may change in the future.
The Family’s Size
Consider the size of your family. A big family (5-7 children) might need the extra room provided by a full-size van. For smaller families, an adapted minivan should work nicely, and both vehicle styles can be equipped for wheelchair accessibility. Keep in mind that even an only child will have friends who will join you for an occasional outing.
The Child’s Condition
Along with wheelchair size, your child’s condition has tremendous bearing on vehicle selection. When a child with limited mobility travels with a ventilator or feeding tube, the vehicle must accommodate it. In such situations, rear entry access is often the better option.
Side entry vans require the wheelchair user to maneuver into position; an operating ventilator or feeding tube on an independent portable stand can easily make positioning awkward. Rear entry access eliminates the need to maneuver–the wheelchair and ancillary equipment roll directly into position from the back of the van.
If you or a caretaker needs to assist your child, it would be helpful to have a seat right next to the wheelchair, as the front passenger seat can make interaction awkward.
Now is a good time to talk about the front-passenger seat, which can be adapted for portability, so you can remove it completely. With a wheelchair docking system installed, the coveted front-passenger position is wheelchair-ready.
That said, size definitely matters here. The laws in some states restrict the size of a child riding in that position, with a typical recommendation of 50 lbs.+ and the ability to tolerate the force of a deployed airbag. A child with a frail or sensitive physical condition should be seated in the middle of the vehicle for safety. Make sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s seat-belt laws for wheelchair passengers.
When there are several passengers in the van, middle seating in the vehicle would put your child at the center of attention and always part of the fun. The side entry accessible van has an array of configuration possibilities, including jump seats and the potential for passenger seating in front, alongside, and behind the wheelchair user in any accessible van.
Focus on the Future
When you find the accessible vehicle that fits the needs of you, your child and family now but are concerned about the changes that may come over time, discuss them with your mobility consultant. Future you has a few options. Keep in mind that additional modifications can be made to your vehicle to better fit you and your family. Another option future you will have is to trade in your vehicle for a newer one that will fit your needs better.