The Parents’ Guide to Wheelchair Van Shopping
The Parents’ Guide to Wheelchair Van Shopping
Before we get into the details, here’s a parent’s scary story with a happy ending:
My wife and daughter (who is in a wheelchair) were traveling home from a church mission trip when they had the misfortune of having a pretty severe car accident. They were traveling at highway speed (75 mph) and drove up on a car traveling around 50 mph. She changed lanes to pass the slower vehicle, and another vehicle tried to pass her traveling around 90 mph. She swerved right to miss the faster vehicle, overcorrected and flipped the van 3 times. When all was said and done, they came to rest on the shoulder of the road right side up. The wheelchair was secured in the van with the Q’Straint restraint system. I am very pleased to tell you that, during the whole thing, the wheelchair never moved. Everyone made it home alive—just a few bumps and bruises and a broken tailbone. Thank you so very much for the attention to detail in the design of the restraint system. That attention to detail saved my little girl’s life. She will be attending college in the fall at Dallas Baptist University because of the safety of that van. – Jay T. Monahans, TX
Handicap accessible vans have been around for a few decades, and innovations over the years have made adapted vans safer, more reliable, and easier to use than ever. Some of these innovations have given rise to a large market of genuinely affordable accessible transportation. If you’re the parent of a child with disabilities that require a wheelchair, and you’ve been considering the purchase of a wheelchair accessible van, the following information should be helpful:
Handicap vans can be configured a number of ways—with side entry or rear entry access, special seating, wheelchair position, and power or manual ramp operation. A mobility consultant at a reputable online (or local wheelchair van dealer) will gather all the information necessary to help you choose the ideal van for your specific needs.
For instance, the size of your family matters. If you have several kids, you’ll need a van with seating that can accommodate everyone. Both full-size vans and minivans can be modified for wheelchair accessibility. Even if you only have one child, you’ll probably need room for a school friend or two from time to time. Believe it or not, a side entry handicap minivan can seat up to seven (7) passengers with the right seating configuration.
Your child’s condition and wheelchair size also figure prominently in the selection of the vehicle. Some children with disabilities require ventilators or feeding tubes, so you’ll need room for additional equipment, and a van with rear entry access is a better choice than the side entry. Rear access allows the wheelchair and accompanying equipment to enter without having to maneuver into position, which is necessary to secure the wheelchair in a side entry handicap minivan, and there might not be enough room.
Is your child pre-teen or a teenager? Your tall, strapping teenage son with a football injury might require rear entry access, which is wider and higher than the side entry version.
A mobility consultant will use your child’s unique physical traits, wheelchair dimensions, your family’s lifestyle, and other specific information in a search for your best-equipped wheelchair van.
Your Seating Requirements
Among other things, the configuration of your van’s interior depends on your child’s condition and how you’d like to interact while traveling. Will you, or a caretaker, need to assist your child? If so, you may want to have a seat right next to the wheelchair rather than taking the front-passenger seat.
Would you like your child in the wheelchair to be the center of attention in the van? A side entry van positions the wheelchair in the center of the van, with passenger seating both in front and behind your child.
With adaptive seating, you can include a removable front-passenger seat, which, along with a wheelchair docking system, provides wheelchair access to that prized front seat. Size matters here, too, and many states have laws restricting the size of a child who can ride in the front-passenger seat. The weight most often recommended is 50 pounds or more, but the child sitting there needs to be able to withstand the force of the airbag in a collision. However, if your child’s physical condition is sensitive or frail, the middle of the cabin is the safest location.
While you’re shopping for a van, take some time to go over your state’s seatbelt laws for wheelchair passengers.
How old is your child? Is your child still growing? When shopping for a van, take the future into consideration. You want a wheelchair van that will maintain its usefulness and accessibility for years—one that your child can grow into with minimal, if any, adjustments.
The perfect wheelchair van for you and your family is out there waiting for you. While an experienced mobility consultant will guide you through the process when you shop, you should now have a better understanding of what to look for when choosing a handicap accessible van for your child.
Susan Hawkins is a writer and video producer for AMS Vans, Inc. in Atlanta, GA.
As a copywriter and video scriptwriter for a wheelchair van company, she has learned firsthand about the industry from the experienced mobility consultants at her company and has done extensive research on wheelchair vans and other handicap accessible transportation, focusing on the conversion process, peripheral mobility equipment, and the criteria for safe, reliable, affordable handicap accessible vans. AMS Vans sells wheelchair vans nationwide with a guaranteed low price on all newly converted AMS-brand wheelchair van models, often thousands of dollars less than other manufacturers. AMSvans.com also accepts trades, rents and buys vans at competitive prices.
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