Accessible Vehicle Modifications 101

dodge van wheelchair converison

This is a great place to start if you are new to wheelchair accessible vehicles.

The use of a wheelchair or scooter often requires the need for a specialized vehicle to transport the wheelchair user and the equipment that the individual uses. If the wheelchair user cannot transfer to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) seat and/or uses a power wheelchair, the use of a wheelchair accessible vehicle would be required to safely transport the individual using both a specialized securement system (to secure the wheelchair) and a three-point harness seatbelt (to secure the individual). A scooter may also necessitate the need for a wheelchair accessible vehicle, but it is important to remember that at no time should an individual occupy their scooter inside a vehicle. The scooter may be secured inside the vehicle similarly to a wheelchair, but the occupant must transfer to the OEM seat while the vehicle is in motion. The tiller on the scooter makes riding on the scooter in a vehicle dangerous as opposed to a power wheelchair, where the joystick is located on an armrest of the power wheelchair.

· Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) companies offer transportation to and from medical appointments for individuals who use a wheelchair. Individuals’ medical insurance may offer a benefit for this type of service.

· Many communities offer Para-Transit service to individuals who use specialized mobility equipment. This would be a service offered through your local public transportation provider, check your local community for available resources.

· An individual may also rent a wheelchair accessible vehicle for a day, week, month or even longer. A valid driver’s license as well as personal vehicle insurance is required of the individual who will be driving the vehicle.

· One may wish to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle for their own personal use. There are many factors to consider when making an investment in a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Safety is a universal concern and one of the main benefits of owning a vehicle designed for adaptive use.

Choosing Your Vehicle and Modification

There are more options than ever available to individuals with physical limitations. The most popular solutions are modified minivans (Dodge Grand Caravan, Toyota Sienna, etc.) and full-sized vans (Ford Transit, Dodge Promaster, etc.). There are other solutions available such as modified pickup trucks and SUVs. We are going to focus on the most popular and cost-effective solutions, modified minivans and full-sized vans.

Wheelchair accessible vehicles consist of a chassis (base vehicle such as a minivan or full-sized van) plus a modification/conversion or a vehicle lift. The type of vehicle and equipment that will best suit your needs can be determined by contacting us for a consultation.

Modified minivans fall into one of two categories: Side-entry or Rear-entry.

A side entry van allows a wheelchair user to drive or sit in the front passenger position, while staying in their mobility device.

A rear-entry vehicle is often a great choice if the wheelchair user is not a driver, as a rear-entry modification is generally lower in cost.

Other considerations in a minivan modification: power sliding doors, manual vs. power ramp, an in-floor vs. foldout ramp, and kneel system. (A kneel system allows the van to lower on the passenger side as the ramp deploys to further lower the grade of the ramp for exit and entry into the vehicle.)

Full-sized vans, such as the Dodge Promaster can be an excellent solution for a family where multiple family members use mobility equipment. Full-sized vans are often outfitted with a lift as opposed to a ramp.

Funding Your Vehicle and Adaptive Equipment

One of the most talked about subjects is the cost of adapted vehicles. A brand-new van can be out of the range for many on a fixed income. However, a preowned chassis outfitted with a brand-new modification could be a possibility. Already own a van? Contact us to explore whether your current van can be modified.

Vehicle Loans: Like purchasing a traditional vehicle, financing for a wheelchair accessible vehicle is available. A finance application must be completed, and funding is offered through special lenders that work exclusively with individuals who require adapted vehicles and equipment.

Veteran’s Administration (VA): In 2008 the VA Secretary Established ALS as a Presumptive Compensable Illness. Veterans should explore their benefits as the cost of a wheelchair accessible vehicle could be covered by the VA. Paralyzed Veterans of America is an excellent resource for assistance with this benefit. You can find more information about Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Medicaid Waiver: Many of the Medicaid Waivers offer funding assistance towards the modification of a van to make it wheelchair accessible. Waivers may be offered through the Area Agencies on Aging as well as the Department of Developmental Disabilities. Consult with your caseworker or support service administrator to explore the potential of assistance through the Medicaid Waiver.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities: This is the new home of Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. This organization assists individuals with disabilities to find employment in the community and post-secondary education. Transportation is often a barrier to community employment and education; a transportation benefit may be available to assist individuals in their programs.

Mobility Rebate Programs: Most major vehicle manufacturers offer a mobility rebate. Rebates average $1,000 and are used to help offset the cost of adaptive equipment or a vehicle modification. These rebates are only available on the purchase of a new chassis (used/preowned vehicles do not qualify) and have specific documentation and timelines that must be followed in order to be reimbursed. We are well-versed on available mobility rebates and terms of use for each manufacturer.

Grants: There are some grants available to assist with funding a wheelchair accessible modification (grants do not typically help fund the chassis). Start your application process early as many grants have funding cycles and require significant documentation to receive an award. Don’t forget to check with local organizations such as your place of worship or civic organizations as well. Contact us for assistance with funding your wheelchair accessible vehicle.

Crowdfunding: Many people have taken to crowdfunding as a way to assist with medical expenses. Most are familiar with There is another, similar, resource available, Help Hope Live is exclusively for individuals with unmet medical and related expenses. They also offer coaching to help with your online fundraising efforts.

In conclusion, purchasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle is not like purchasing a traditional vehicle. There are many things to consider to ensure a safe and comfortable ride in a vehicle that will give you many years of service. These vehicles carry a considerable cost. Making a poor choice in the chassis, conversion/modification, lift, or other adaptive equipment can result in unsafe transport, uncomfortable ride, difficulty with entry and exit of the vehicle, and wasted funding. Contact us to explore your options today!

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