Handicap vans can be built to order or created though a conversion. The key aspects of accessibility in a handicap van include space to carry a wheelchair or electric scooter, and a ramp or lift to transfer the wheelchair or scooter to the ground. Other factors include wheelchair or scooter stabilization while traveling, and installing a power transfer seat or hand-control devices if necessary.
When planning a conversion of a factory-model vehicle to a handicap van, the following are some options and factors to consider.
Rear Entry or Side Entry?
A side entry conversion should provide both driver and passenger side access. Often this will include a removable front passenger seat. The ramp extends out of the side door and is typically powered, and usually the conversion will include a lower floor level in the van.
Side Entry Handicap van conversions are typically offered for Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Grand Caravan and Volkswagen Routan models.
A rear entry conversion allows the person in the wheelchair to enter the van through the back. In this case the ramp may be lighter weight and can be spring-loaded rather than motorized. This configuration is most convenient for non-accessible parking spaces. Rear entry conversions can apply to the same vehicle models listed above.
In general, side entry conversions are 25 to 40 percent more costly than rear entry handicap van conversions.
Secure While on the Road
A critical aspect of your handicap van conversion is the method of securing your wheelchair or electric scooter. Two of the most popular methods are the Q Straint adjustable wheelchair straps and the EZLock wheelchair docking system.
Q Straint is the less expensive option, and features a 4-point anchor system for your wheelchair tie-downs. This system has been on the market for handicap vans for over 25 years.
EZLock systems cost 4 to 5 times the price of the Q Straint. The system relies on a docking base designed to guide the wheelchair into position before locking. The position and status of the base is electronically monitored. This system allows a handicap van operator to drive while in the wheelchair.
Power Transfer Seats
Mobility limitations may necessitate a power transfer seat to aid in entry and exit from the van. These seats typically offer independent height, rotation and front and rear travel adjustments. Power transfer seats are designed to allow individuals who normally could not ride in a seat to do so, and provide maximum space for entry and exit.
When lower mobility in the driver is limited, the answer is hand controls. A specially designed lever is mounted below the steering wheel, allowing the driver to manipulate the gas and brake pedals. These systems do not interfere with conventional operation of the vehicle, so other drivers are able to operate the vehicle as well.
There are at least 4 different types of hand controls available that offer different motions to perform the various driving functions. Matching the system type with the driver's mobility needs is critical before choosing and installing the hand controls.