AT driving, MS, MS Driving, wheelchair vehicle

My Journey to Driving with Assisted Technology, part 2

OK, where was I? Wheelchair van shopping. Shall we start that emotional rollercoaster together now?

Maybe a MS joke first to lighten the mood? I’ve seen this one a lot of places and do not know the author. A person with MS walks into a bar. And a table, and a chair, and a wall.

Ready? Here we go. Wheelchair van shopping. Thinking about a brand new vehicle with wheelchair accessibility and all the hand controls? Lets start with some wheelchair van basics.

The phrase wheelchair van is because well, they are mostly minivans. For the 2021 new vehicle line up a SUV was added – a Chevy Traverse. Brand new vehicles are converted, but so are used vehicles. Check out the price differences. I dare you. Done? I’ll give you a moment to recover from probably the biggest sticker shock you have experienced.  

There are several conversion types. The most popular are Braunability and VMI. Each has their pros and cons. It will depend on your needs as to which is best for you. Braunability was recommended for me and after research and questioning the reviewed cons, I agreed.

As part of the conversion of a vehicle to wheelchair accessible, the typical vehicle floor is removed and replaced with a new lower floor to create enough head room for a person sitting in a wheelchair. The vehicle seats remain at the usual height in relation to windows and ceiling. The seat locations are adjusted based on the wheelchair ramp’s location. For side entry ramps the second row of seats are removed and the third row seats remain and given foot rests. The side entry ramps will extend out the side opposite the driver’s location. For rear entry ramps, the seats are arranged for a center wheelchair path.

There are two ramp types: fold out and in floor. The fold out ramps will take up cabin space as they fold in half and rest upright next to the door. This requires the ramp to be extended to allow anyone to use that door. The side entry folding ramp may also impact the front passenger seat adjustments.

Side if floor ramp extending.
Side in floor ramp extending.
Side in floor ramp extended.
Side in floor ramp extended.

The in floor ramp extends out like the minivan is sticking out a tongue at the world. The ramp comes out from between the vehicle floor and the vehicle bottom. Here the door can be used for step in entry and step out exit without the ramp extended. The in floor ramp is considered sturdier and lasts longer since it does not have the hinge fold. 

The coolest part of the ramp extension is if the vehicle ‘kneels’ to reduce the ramp angle. Look at all of the space above the ramp side rear tire before the ramp extends. I also have a pic of the same wheel well with the ramp fully extended.

Rear, ramp side wheel well before kneel mode.
Rear, ramp side wheel well before kneel mode.
Rear tire wheel well during kneel.
Rear tire wheel well during kneel.
Floor track for attachments.
Floor track for attachments.

The vehicle floor may have tracks to allow wheelchair(s) to be strapped down. This does not mean strapped into the driver position. The tracks also allow for seat belt extension/use with a wheelchair or different vehicle seat arrangement. Let me explain. The front vehicle seats can be removable and switch locations. Say a wheelchair sitting driver and a regular driver go on a trip and want to share the driving. Instead of taking both front seats, they take one and swap the seat location as needed. The seat belt buckle is attached to one side of the vehicle seat. To use the seat belt when the vehicle seat is in the other location you will need a buckle to attach to the floor. 

The vehicle’s doors are also changed for the lower floor.

Remember that sticker shock? This is the extent of the conversion. Everything else is personalized and are at additional costs. Will you be a driver? Which assisted technology do you need to drive? Are you going to be a passenger? If driving, can you transfer to a driver’s seat? Your wheelchair will determine how it is secured while riding and driving. Your wheelchair may not be approved for the driver position. My ‘portable’ wheelchair, Golden Lite Envy, wasn’t approved. I needed a driving approved power wheelchair.

This is a lot to absorb. I hope it was helpful and answered your questions about wheelchair vehicles. Next time I will take you into the experience of test driving, or rather test riding, and selecting a specific vehicle. Later in the series I will get into securing a wheelchair, my driving assistive technology (AT), my learning process, and surrounding tasks.

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