Wheelchair van
October 25, 2011 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Need recommendations for a wheelchair van.

No matter how bright his frail deeds may have danced in Green Bay, my SO's father has lower-limb onset ALS. He's gone from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair in three months. It's time to find him a van that can accommodate his wheelchair. I like the rear entry option, since it seems more flexible. Any recommendations for brands? Is the manual version easy enough for his wife, a small 75 year old woman, to operate, or should we concentrate on electric? Are there any other transportation considerations to help a feisty, independent SOB rage against the dying of the light?
posted by Floydd to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Dodge Grand Caravan wheelchair conversion van with side entry ramp.
It is a complicated area to sort through. If you can find a MITS dealer near you they will provide personal attention to the need that you have.

The front passenger seat easilly removes to allow a wheelchair to be placed in that space. There are more than one way to attach holding bracket or straps. Talk to a dealer about the options.

Rear entry may be easier for the driver but it isolates the disabled person. That is a personal decision.

I have a quadriplegic friend that also has a Dodge Grand Caravan and has used it for years with great success.

I assume you are talking about the wheelchair when you mention manual vs electric. I have a manual wheelchair while my friend has an electric because of his lack of physical ability. Either works. Depends on your needs.

I would suggest you research with an MITS dealer and by a google for handicapped conversion van options. There is lots to learn. It will take a lot of homework and taking.
Good luck.
posted by JayRwv at 6:12 PM on October 25, 2011

My partner drives a converted Toyota Sienna. It's a pleasure to own and drive and the conversion - the ramp and all the associated mechanics - work very well. We chose the Toyota over a Chrysler Town and Country because we liked the finish and drive of the Toyota and while the T & C offered more extras (video, GPS) they just weren't what we needed. The Toyota was more expensive though.  This van replaced a 2008 Toyota conversion, and while there's little to choose between the two regarding driving, the ramp mechanism in the '08 was flaky. 

We chose a side ramp because most accessible parking spots are made for them and they give the option of exit onto a sidewalk if needed. And it's needed often. The rear ramp version is roomier in some ways and puts your passengers closer to the driver and front passenger but we didn't like the restricted parking options and I could never see exiting from the van as anything other than dicey because it puts you into traffic. 

I don't think we ever had the option of a manual ramp but I would never choose one. The few times I've had to wrestle with one in snowy or icy weather have put me off even the thought of one. 

You do not say if you're dad is using a manual or power chair. I'm a reasonably spry 55 year old and find it no trivial task pushing my partner up the ramp when she's using her manual chair. There are vans with lifts rather than ramps which will solve this problem. 

Your first step is to find a dealer. They can show your parents all the options and let them try things out. 

Good luck. Accessible vans are great feistiness and stubbornness enablers. MeMail me if you want. 
posted by firstdrop at 6:40 PM on October 25, 2011

(Forgive me. I should have been referring to your SO's parents in my answer. The advice stays the same and the reason for needing it just as burdensome.)
posted by firstdrop at 6:44 PM on October 25, 2011

Another family with a Toyota Sienna with side ramp (for power chair). The ramp is sometimes flaky and various issues require servicing, so you'll probably end up working regularly with whatever mobility shop you work with.

Anything that requires horsing equipment around outside raises the risk of a fall or injury for your SO's mom. I would want to be really confident about her ease of use and I would lean toward a power ramp if there's any question. But yes - as said above, you want to find a mobility shop to work with and they can let you try out all the options to see what really works.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:15 PM on October 25, 2011

Best answer: I have a Rollx conversion of a Dodge Grand Caravan. A few things to think about when picking out a van:
- If you get one with a lowered floor, and you live in a place with snow in the winter, make sure you get the salt washed off regularly or it will corrode.

- If you have a lowered floor, you're going to scrape against the road on many, many inclines. Supposedly this is ok, but I would have the undercarriage checked regularly, especially if it's coated to prevent corrosion.

- If you have car trouble, the police and/or AAA will have no clue what to do with someone in a heavy motorized wheelchair beyond "call an ambulance". Make a list of accessible cab companies, paratransit, and fellow wheelchair van users who could conceivably come to your aid and keep in the glove compartment. (Wheelchair van rental places too, but they will charge you an arm and a leg for emergency service.)

- Don't be too proud to get more adapted features than you currently need. This is a common mistake among disabled people: we often get the minimal features that we can get by with, like going with a manual ramp because we can currently pull it down. Plan for the future. Get the electric ramp or lift.

- If there's a chance the wheelchair user will need CPAP/ventilator or other electric equipment, look for a van with an outlet in back. Sure you can get an inverter and plug it into the cigarette lighter, but you don't want to be fooling with running the cords to the front.

- Be careful of running electric equipment or raising/lowering the ramp/lift too many times with the van off. You don't want to drain the battery.

- Make sure there's a manual way of operating the ramp or lift in case the battery dies.

- Never neglect to do the tie-downs; you don't want a 300 lb wheelchair going anywhere without authorization from the occupant.
posted by Soliloquy at 7:38 PM on October 25, 2011

One more thing: think long and hard about the ramp itself. Many vans nowadays have ramps that slide out from inside the floor of the vehicle, which does save room inside and sometimes means a shallower angle for the wheelchair user to push up. However, these usually have little or no railing on the side, making it very easy to slip over the edge.
posted by Soliloquy at 7:44 PM on October 25, 2011

-good tie-downs for the heavy chair

-have a contingency plan of what to do if the ramp fails while he's in the car - always bring a cell phone with numbers of the mobility shop and other people who can help, and (maybe a bit too personal) bring whatever he needs to be able to pee or take care of other needs in the event he's stuck in the car for a couple of hours. This doesn't happen often but can be a real headache when it does happen, so best to be prepared.

-do take steps so that you don't drain the battery - for example there are electronic things you can install that will always turn off battery-drainers (eg the dome light) after a certain time, ask your mobility shop about these

-the ramp I'm familiar with does lower the underside of the car, so it is pretty common to scrape on a curb when you go around a corner too tightly, that sort of thing. Just worth remembering to be extra careful, and again keep the number of your repair shop handy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:40 PM on October 25, 2011

The accessible taxis in São Paulo are Fiat Doblos — low gas consumption, same size as a car, easy to drive.
posted by Tom-B at 10:16 AM on October 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all your help, guys! We've found a local mobility shop and will go there this weekend to check everything out. He's a veteran, and we've just found out that ALS is a "presumptive service connected disease." He'll be eligible for disability payments and a transportation grant to help him out with all this. One bright spot in a really bleak diagnosis.
posted by Floydd at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2011

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