Need to acquire a handicap accessible vehicle
December 9, 2016 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Mrs. pjern, for reasons of disability (she had polio as a child and is finding it very difficult to move around), wants to purchase a handicap/power wheelchair accessible vehicle. We know nothing about the process, and searching on line brings much in the was of spamvertising, but precious little real information.

The big questions first: How do you get one of these vehicles? The dealership is no help, because it's third-party thing. Do you just buy a candidate vehicle and take it somewhere? Buy one already modified? Is financial assistance available for modifications? What are the warning flags that a vehicle modifier is shady?

As always, thank you in advance for any insights the hive might have into this process.

(Her current car is unsuitable because it's a compact sedan.)
posted by pjern to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Most cities have a local business (or more than one) that sells these vehicles. As you already know, you don't go to the brand dealership. Google "conversion vans [your fair city] - you will see some "national results" but should find your local businesses in there somewhere.

That said, I'm surprised that the dealership is no help - you'd think they should know about these local businesses, since they presumably buy vehicles from them. Try calling and asking for the sales manager or owner?

I'd bet that if there is assistance in buying these vehicles, the conversion companies would know about it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:58 AM on December 9, 2016

Your local Aging and Disability Resource center might be able to refer you to vendors in your area.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:58 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

When my mom needed a van like this, my dad went to a place that specializes in mobility vehicles. I agree with the suggestion above to do a search for local places that do conversions.

IIRC, the van my parents bought was used, but still quite expensive due to the modifications. I don't know if there is financial assistance available through any organizations, but I assume you could take out a car loan like with any other car, if you qualify.
posted by amro at 8:02 AM on December 9, 2016

These people do information and referral and is where I would start down this path. They do tech mostly but usually the assistive tech people know the other accessibility people. Your local senior center may have people they work with who have good advice on local folks to work with. Indy number is: 317-263-6279.

Here are some numbers for the grants from invidividual mobility programs from auto manufacturers.

Also keep these folks in your pocket if you run into trouble.
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 AM on December 9, 2016

I wrote out a long answer and then found out you live in Indianapolis. I'll give you the long answer as well as this short one: go to Superior Van and Mobility at 5410 S. Madison 46227 tel. (800) 508-8267. They'll walk you through some options and talk financing. They sell both new and second hand vehicles. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

I live near you and I would be delighted to meet you and show you round or current van and take you all for a joyride. Memail me.

Here's my long answer for your and the archive's benefit.

My partner uses a power chair because of MS. We have had a succession of wheelchair accessible vans, mostly Toyota Siennas and all converted (made accessible) by BraunAbility. We've always chosen side-entry (as opposed to rear-entry) drop-down (as opposed to in-floor) ramps. Mme firstdrop drives her chair into the van, locks it in, transfers to the driver's seat, and takes off for work using hand controls. We love these things.

How did we get our vans? The first one we bought was a Dodge Caravan with a VMI conversion which we bought second hand from someone off Craigslist. The rest we've purchased new or near new from Superior Van and Mobility.

They are horribly expensive. The last two vans have been bought with help from our state Vocational Rehab who have footed the cost of the conversion and hand controls. Look into this if your wife works or wants to. It will significantly cut your costs. The process is not quick though.

I think there are still outfits who will convert a van that you buy. They'll put in a ramp or lift or whatever you want. However I've always liked working with a dealer; their support has been unstinting and they really get disability. It's actually pretty cool walking or rolling into a place where disability is the norm rather than the exception. They get the problems, know solutions and can anticipate future needs. Whether you buy from a dealer or use them for service (your local Toyota dealer will not be able to service or fix the ramp or doors and don't let them try) it is well worth your while establishing a relationship with them. To find one I'd ask local people with vans or call Braun or VMI and ask.

We sold our last van by word of mouth but had many bites by advertising on, an online marketplace for wheelchair accessible vehicles. It's probably worth your while spending some time on the site to see what's available. Vans are not the only way to go and everybody's needs are different.

This fact of different needs is another good reason to visit a dealer or two. They'll be able to talk to you about the various options and their advantages.
posted by firstdrop at 9:12 AM on December 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think firstdrop gave you a very thorough answer.
I had to purchase a Conversion van for my wife. It had side entry and could kneel on the ramp side.

My quadriplegic friend had a conversion van with side entry. His problem was that some people would park so close to the van (even with no parking stripes) that he could not get his wheelchair into the van. Since I was able bodied I was able to get into our van and back out a sufficient distance so that I could lower the ramp. Some drivers have no clue. Our van was a Dodge Caravan conversion. But the highest quality is Toyota Sienna. If you look at them you will likely come to that conclusion as well. We bought low a milealge and clean van. Used it over 6 years till she passed away and never had a problem with the conversion equipment. A marvelous van for us. Look for M.I.T.S. in your area of search. But you have a great offer from "firstdrop" who obviously knows vans.
posted by JayRwv at 5:31 PM on December 9, 2016

Something to consider is if she wants/needs a vehicle where she will stay in/drive from her power chair, or would be better served by a vehicle which is easy for her to transfer in/out of, and then have someone else load her power chair into. It is likely worthwhile spending some money up front to consult with an occupational therapist to see what the options are, and what the likely progression of her needs is, so whatever you do is future friendly.

The options for a vehicle where she sits in a conventional seat and then her mobility device is secured somehow are typically broader and can be significantly cheaper. Look at swivel/tilt seats, and then possibly a crane/ramp setup for her mobility device. This will open up a far wider range of vehicle possibilities, than if she needs to remain in her wheelchair (you can't remain in a scooter generally in a personal vehicle). Some powerchairs/seating setups cannot be properly secured in a vehicle, and most (but not all) will need someone else to secure them. To setup for her to be able to enter independently, and drive from her chair is possible, but complex.

Do seek local expert advice, because to do this safely and appropriately for her, is critical, and can get expensive very, very quickly.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 4:43 PM on December 10, 2016

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