Accessible Vehicles 101: A Beginner’s Guide to a Handicap Van

Freedom and self-reliance are essential to physical and emotional wellbeing. For people with mobility challenges, an accessible mobility van (or handicap van) can be the necessary tool to independently access this freedom.

There are a variety of style and equipment options to choose from to suit an entire spectrum of mobility levels and your local BraunAbility dealer is there to help you find the perfect fit for you.

Below we cover Accessible Vehicles 101– From what they are, to all the ways they meet your needs, to how to find the right one for you.

What Are Accessible Vehicles? Handicap Cars, SUVS, and Vans

Accessible vans (SUVS, cars) are vehicles that have been modified to allow both passengers and drivers with a variety of mobility needs to access the vehicle. They allow those with physical disabilities to maintain independence and accessibility to all that life has to offer.

Handicap accessible vehicles now come in a variety of models, makes, and styles. The “best type” of accessible vehicle is as varied as the mobility needs of the driver and passengers. Seating, lifts, and securement can all be modified to suit your needs and your lifestyle. In some cases, conversions can completely change how the vehicle drives and functions.

Let’s explore the variety of ways that the right vehicle and accessories can keep you moving, regardless of your mobility level.

How Do Accessible Vehicles Work? Common Adaptations

The number of adaptive technologies available for wheelchair users and those with other physical needs continues to expand every year. These technologies range from simple equipment, such as swivel seats, to more high-tech equipment like hand controls.

Common vehicle adaptations include:

Below we dive deeper into some common modifications to make your vehicle just right for your lifestyle and ability needs:

Swivel Seats

A swivel seat, like BraunAbility’s Turny Evo, is one of the most common modifications available. It is compatible with over 150 vehicles and can be programmed to fit each passenger’s exact needs. The Turny Evo can easily be modified to fit a van you already own– even if your vehicle is on the smaller side.

The Turny Evo moves the car seat completely outside the vehicle and lowers it down to your desired level. This makes it easier to sit down or transfer from a wheelchair to a vehicle. Caregivers no longer need to manually lift and rotate someone when getting in and out of the vehicle.

Hand Controls and Other Driving Conversions

Driving conversions allow drivers of various mobility levels to take the wheel into their own hands. Specialty devices can include hand controls, touchpads, steering wheel spinner knobs, and more.

For example, with hand controls, both the brake and gas are on the steering wheel. This allows individuals who cannot use their legs to still be able to drive independently. Often, the driver seat is missing from the vehicle, and the wheelchair acts as the driver’s seat. There are safety clamps or tie downs that secure the wheelchair to keep it safely in place during travel. Additional modifications are needed to get the wheelchair in and out of the vehicle, in the driving position.

Running errands, visiting family, or having lunch with a friend just got a lot simpler– and more fun.

Multiple Entry Options

Most people think of sliding doors with ramps for handicap vans, but conversions can be done in multiple different ways, to meet different needs.

For example, both side- and rear-entry modifications are available. Side-entry generally requires a lowered floor and offers more headspace for comfort. Often, front seats are removable, and the wheelchair takes their place.

The rear-entry option may allow space for a larger wheelchair to enter and comfortably sit. However, rear entry wheelchairs usually don’t have access to the front seats, meaning driving the vehicle is not an option.

A benefit of a rear-entry conversion is the ability to seat multiple passengers easily with full power ramps. With a side-entry design, it could take much longer and require more coordination to fit as many people. Rear-entry conversions also tend to be less expensive.

With such an array of options, there is a right-fit vehicle out there for every need. A BraunAbility mobility consultant can help find the best modifications for your needs.

The next step is deciding if it’s best to add the modifications to your existing vehicle, purchase a vehicle, or consider yet another option. Read on to consider your choices.

What Are My Accessible Vehicle Choices? Options for Everyone

Modify Your Existing Vehicle

Maybe you’ve suddenly found yourself needing a wheelchair, but you love your current ride and don’t want to part with it. Maybe you already have a handicap van that meets most of your needs, but you are interested in some extra options or some newly available modifications. In these cases, modifying your existing vehicle can be a great fit.

Buy an Accessible Vehicle: New or Used

Interestingly, modifying the vehicle you already have is not always the most cost-effective route. Why? You may not have bought it with your current mobility needs in mind, so the list of necessary modifications can be long.

Often, buying a used vehicle that has all or most of the conversion options you need can offer significant savings. You can start with a good fit and then add a few modifications to find the perfect fit for your mobility level– resulting in a vehicle you love!

Buying a new vehicle gives you the option to choose exactly the make, model, and modifications that you require. It also ensures that they are all built to function together seamlessly. This can be a great choice when budget or financing allows.

With such a wide array of options available, finding the next fit vehicle can be next to impossible on your own. A BraunAbility Certified Mobility Specialist can advise you on the very best options for you in terms of conversions, availability, and cost.

Accessible Rentals: Other Options for Temporary Needs

Ride share or taxi services exist, but it is often hard to find a vehicle that matches your needs. The varied spectrum of mobility needs means finding the right fit can be a challenge. These are also often not available options in rural or even residential settings.

Renting a handicap van or other accessible vehicle through a certified dealer with a network of modified vehicles can be a wonderful solution for temporary or short-term needs.

With so many choices in modifications, vehicles, and purchase options, considering a new vehicle can be exciting and overwhelming. We’ll help you get started on the right path.

Where Do I Start? Finding the Best Accessible Vehicle for Your Needs

There is nothing worse than feeling that no vehicle feels quite right or purchasing a vehicle and then finding out it can’t accommodate your needs– but neither is an uncommon story. Doing your homework up front and partnering with a mobility expert can ensure the vehicle you invest in will meet your needs for years to come.

To ensure the best shopping  (and then driving) experience, follow our guidelines below:

Questions To Ask Before You Start Shopping

Before you even begin shopping for a new wheelchair van, be sure to take some time to answer a few questions about your mobility needs and your lifestyle. It’s important to be sure the vehicle can meet your needs or be modified to do so. answer some additional questions to make sure you’ll be able to modify the van. Write down any questions that pop into your mind along the way– But here are some items the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends starting with:

  • Does the vehicle have the cargo capacity to accommodate your equipment?
  • Will there be enough space and cargo capacity to fit your family or passengers once the vehicle is modified?
  • Is there enough parking room at home and at work for the vehicle and for loading/unloading a wheelchair/walker/etc.?
  • What additional options are necessary for the safe operation of the vehicle?

Work With a Certified Mobility Specialist

We’ve mentioned it several times already, but we’ll say it again. – If you are going to follow only one piece of advice when exploring modifications, purchases or rentals of Accessibility vehicles– Work with a BraunAbility Certified Mobility Specialist.

They have a network of new and used vehicles, an understanding of modification options, and know all of the questions to ask to ensure that you end up with a vehicle that can handle your mobility needs and your lifestyle.

Understanding what vehicles can be wheelchair-accessible is one of the first steps in the car buying process. No matter what style, size, or model of vehicle you end up choosing, our team of Mobility Specialists will make sure your experience is seamless and that you drive away in a car that meets all your needs.

Visit your local BraunAbility dealer to start searching for your perfect vehicle today!

Related Articles: