This post will be about my wheelchair accessible minivan, what adaptive equipment I use, why I chose them, and how they work. For more information on adapted driving in general read this post. To learn about our process leading up to the decision to get a wheelchair accessible vehicle read this post.
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) come in many shapes, sizes, types and can have a range of assistive and adaptive equipment inside of them. Many people assume that they have to get a full sized or minivan in order to have a WAV, but thanks to the improvements in design and technology WAVs can now also be certain SUVs, pickup trucks, and even sedans! That being said, looks aren’t everything and certain vehicles will fit better for certain people and their lifestyle. For example, I was very exciting seeing all the SUV and sedan conversions but between the lack of passenger seating left in the sedan conversions and the smaller interior space of the SUVs, a minivan was best suited to my needs and I have very few regrets!
What I Have
I have a 2018 Toyota Sienna LE with a Side-Entry Power Fold Out Ramp (or TSLESEPFOR for short 😉 ). This means that the majority of my car is the same as a normal Toyota Sienna (engine, interior controls, body, last row of seats, and style) EXCEPT that the entire bottom of my car was ripped out and what they put back in is a lowered floor, the ramp, and a special rear suspension system.
There are several different companies that convert vehicles, the main two are Braunability and Vantage Mobility International (VMI), and a few different types of conversions. I am not going to go super in depth about each one, but more information can be found on the dealer’s websites as well as from an adapted vehicle dealer. The first main distinction is where the ramp comes out: side-entry (comes from the passenger side door) or rear (comes from the trunk). The second distinction is how the ramp comes out: manual or power and the third main distinction is the ramp storage: in-floor (flat ramp stowed outside of the car under the door and slides out) or fold-out (folds in half and sits inside the passenger door upright).
Things to Keep In Mind
- Rear entry and manual ramp conversions will always be the cheapest
- Different brands and types of ramps will have different: ramp angles, ramp widths, doorway clearance height, interior turning space, ramp weight limits, maintenance requirements etc. This can be overwhelming but speaking to dealers directly as well as your driving rehabilitation expert can help find the best solution for you
- Different conversions will have different passenger abilities: passenger capabilities range from 1-5 (more if full size van) in seats, some conversions can accommodate multiple wheelchair users, not all will support the wheelchair user driving or being up front
- Different ramp types may be more suitable for different environments: fold out ramps are easier to deploy onto curbs and uneven terrain but may track in dirt and water if you live in a rainy/snowy area, in floor ramps have the option to enter/exit passenger door without the ramp deploying/ getting in the way- may be a win if you have kids
- Safety features: fold out ramps can be manually deployed from the inside in case of emergency and have higher side edges to prevent slipping off ramp, manual ramps often need a second person to deploy
- Maintainability: power ramps require more regular maintenance than manual ramps, fold out ramps can often be less expensive to maintain
Why I Chose My Car Setup
After visiting several dealers, wheeling up a few ramps, looking at interiors, reading online, and process of elimination we were lucky enough to have this car mentioned to us and the pieces fell together. For me, I needed a side-entry vehicle because rear entry vehicles the wheelchair user sits behind the second row seats which would prove challenging to then get into the driver’s seat. I chose the power fold out because I liked that it could work as a manual ramp whenever needed, it would be easier to deploy onto curbs (key if parallel parking or in a city), it was cheaper than in floor, and had higher edges on the ramp to keep me from rolling off the side. Once we had narrowed it down to that, by happenstance this car popped up on our dealer’s radar. It had low mileage, was a Toyota Sienna, and already had a transfer seat installed in the driver’s seat!
Because I didn’t want to drive from my wheelchair, the transfer seat slides back into the middle of my van and turns allowing me to wheel up my ramp, lock my chair and transfer right into the drivers seat that came with the car. I then use switches that move me and the seat up to the driving position. It also works well to confuse everyone you park next to ;).
For hand controls, I use the Veigal Compact II Push/Pull hand controls- I push to brake and pull to accelerate. These are right hand mounted, which is not typical. These controls are made by a German company and are more often installed in non adapted vehicles as they can sit right next to the console and be out of the way. Typically, hand controls are column mounted (ie go through the steering column) and are operated with the left hand. Some disadvantages of this are that you are more restricted in your seat positioning, your drive hand is far away from the gear shift, they may have to make permanent modifications to your car to install (remove leg air bags etc), and the manual ones cannot be disabled for able bodied drivers.
Initially, the main reason I liked the Veigal Controls is they are on the right side and low down. I have less strength on my left side but good range of motion and the opposite on my right. Other benefits I have found are: they can be easily disabled for able bodied people to drive, they are inconspicuous, they don’t permanently modify the vehicle (except the holes in the flooring), they allow for the user to sit in a larger variety of places, they have a parking brake for changing gears or sitting at long lights, they are not fatiguing as you can rest your arm on the armrest, and they are very easy to use! Can you tell I like them? The last piece of adapted equipment I have is a SureGrip Spinner Knob which I have mounted on the lower left of my wheel and helps me turn the wheel with one hand. I like this one because it does not slide and the knob can be removed to be out of the way for an able bodied driver.
I plan to make a video demonstrating the features of my car, how I get in and how I drive with my hand controls and probably some better pictures. Thanks for reading!