Wheelchair accessible van
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A wheelchair-accessible van is a vehicle in a range of them that have been modified to increase the interior size of the vehicle and to equip it with a means of wheelchair entry such as a wheelchair ramp or powered lift, to allow access.
The general steps manufacturers undergo to convert a van differ greatly from one manufacturer to another. Modifications fall into two categories, the first is where the individual in a wheelchair is the driver and the second is where the individual in a wheelchair is a passenger.
Conversions generally involve the following:
- Some portion of the floor is lowered
- Seating is modified to allow wheelchair access and is reconfigurable
- Means of external access added. This is most often a ramp, lift, or turning seat
- Suspension may be stiffened to allow extra weight of power chairs / additional weight from conversion
- Power kneeling system is typically added to reduce the slope of the ramp (side entry conversions)
- Gas tanks and fuel lines may be modified
- Vehicle is certified to meet NHTSA safety requirements
These modifications take several days to complete, but the process of scheduling the conversion and shipping the vehicle to/from the conversion site adds considerable time - up to 6 weeks total.
Passenger conversions involve the following:
- The floor is reinforced
- Seats are added
- Q'Straint (or Wheelchair) tiedowns/securements are installed
- Ramp or hoist installed
- Windows installed
- Van lining (finishing)
There are two types of entry configurations: side-entry and rear-entry. The entry location impacts wheelchair seating positions, parking options, the ability to accommodate other passengers, and storage availability.
Advantages of a side-entry configuration include: ability to drive from a wheelchair or sit in the front passenger position in a wheelchair or driver position; enter and exit curbside away from traffic; and more storage space. Disadvantages of this style are that it requires a handicap parking space or extra room for ramp deployment and that some driveways are not wide enough to accommodate the vehicle. Over 75% of personal use wheelchair-accessible vehicles employ a side-entry configuration.
A rear-entry configuration can be used for attended applications in which the wheelchair occupant is not driving the vehicle but rather riding as a passenger. One advantage of a rear-entry vehicle is that, with the exception of parallel parking, no extra room is required for a ramp and the side passenger doors aren’t blocked if a folding-style ramp is installed. In addition, mid-passenger seats can be mounted next to the wheelchair position. Other advantages include more ground clearance and more room for long wheelchairs and/or leg rests. Limitations of the rear-entry style are the requirement to enter and exit from a traffic area, the inability to drive from the wheelchair and/or have the wheelchair in the front passenger position, and less storage space.
Types of access
Ramp based modifications are most commonly performed on minivans. In order to provide access for the wheelchair user, the floor on side-entry vehicles is lowered 8–12 in (203–305 mm). In rear-entry configuration, the floor is not lowered but rather removed, and a composite or steel tub is inserted.
Ramps come in two styles—fold-up or in-floor—and two operating modes—manual or motorized. Fold-up ramps fold in half and stow upright next to the side passenger door in a side-entry configuration or inside the rear access doors in a rear-entry configuration. Fold-up ramps present a lower ramp angle than in-floor ramps; however, in side-entry configurations, they are in the way of the passenger entrance when stowed. In-floor ramps slide into a pocket underneath the vehicle's floor and are only available for side-entry configurations. Folding ramps are available in manual or motorized versions for both entry configurations. However, in-floor ramps are only available as motorized. Power applications may also have a “kneeling feature” that reduces the angle of the ramp by compressing the suspension of the van on the ramp side.
In addition, portable ramps are available for use with many vehicles and typically do not require any vehicle modification. Portable wheelchair ramps cost much less both to purchase and to maintain. Since they are not attached to the vehicle, they can be also be used for handicapped access for other applications. It is important to take the proper measurements to select an appropriate ramp for your vehicle.
Minivans that are most frequently converted:
- Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country
- Honda Odyssey
- Toyota Sienna
- Vehicle Production Group MV-1 - not a conversion but factory-equipped with a ramp.
Full size vans require that lifts in the form of a platform that can be raised and lowered from inside the vehicle down to the ground outside. There are many types of lifts available on the market. Mono-arm lifts, double-arm lifts and underbody lifts. Double-arm and underbody lifts are best-able for bigger vehicles such as minibuses or buses used for public transport. They have a bigger platform and higher load capacity so they are suitable even for heavy electric wheelchairs with a heavy occupant (more than 300 kg. in all). A mono-arm Lift is preferable for private transport because it can fit smaller vehicles. A mono-arm lift is lighter and smaller than the other ones and it ensures a clear view when it's installed in the back of the car. Moreover mono-arm lifts are preferable for the side-door installation because they are thinner than a double-arm.
Crane type lifts are combined with seats that turn and lower to the ground as a means of providing wheelchair access to some types of vehicles.
Some companies offer the option of a "transfer seat", in which the front driver's or passenger's seat moves on a track back to the wheelchair's position allowing the wheelchair user to transfer into the OEM front seat and then move the seat back into its original position. The conversion is very simple and does not carry the complicated engineering and electronics typically found in a side-entry conversion. As a result, they are very well suited for commercial and heavy-cycle applications (i.e.-taxi, non-emergency ambulance, paratransit, assisted living, and dial-a-ride) and geographic areas prone to vehicle corrosion from salt and chloride usage on highways in winter seasons.
If one would prefer a truck over a mini-van, there are wheelchair accessible trucks. Mobility SVM is a manufacturing company that specializes in converting GMC Sierras and Chevy Silverados. Their lift comes out and goes down, the customer would lock their wheelchair into place, and then it lifts them up into the position of the drivers seat. No transfer needed, one can drive straight from their wheelchair.
- Car for wheelchair users
- Adapted automobile
- Walter Harris Callow, inventor of wheelchair accessible bus
- Bridge plate
- Wheelchair accessibility
- Wheelchair accessible taxi
- Wheelchair ramp