History of Handicap Vans

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A handicap van, or accessible minivan, today refers to a minivan which has been modified with a lowered floor, ramp, and exterior ground effects to create a vehicle that looks very near the original vehicle design from the exterior with the additional space needed on the interior to navigate a wheelchair comfortably.

However, the modern design wasn’t always this integrated. At the beginning of the handicap van’s creation, handicap vans were built from full-size vans with a mechanical and hydraulic lift installed in either the side or rear of the vehicle. These designs haven’t fully disappeared; rather, BraunAbility lifts are still included in our product portfolio. Which product may be right for you? Read here to learn more and decide for yourself.

The history of handicap vans is closely tied to the history of BraunAbility. Our founder, Ralph Braun, is often called the Father of the Mobility Movement and was the inventor of the modern-day handicap van.

The first motorized wheelchair came onto the scene in 1953 and was developed by a Canadian inventor. Ralph had a standard wheelchair, but he wanted to go further, easier. Just ten years later in 1963, Ralph invented the first motorized three-wheeled scooter. Then came the need to travel even greater distances in a variety of climates. Because of this need, in 1966, Ralph installed a lift for his scooter in the rear of a postal Jeep. This was his personal vehicle, and he drove with hand controls, finessing the design over many years until he was able to create a design that could be scaled to full-size vans. This set him up uniquely for what would happen next. 

History of Full-Size Handicap Vans

In 1970 Chrysler introduced the “B-vans,” which featured an elongated body, but unlike their predecessor, the “A-vans,” B-vans were engineered to be quieter and increase highway mileage. Ralph was ready in the wings and quickly developed an accessible version with a wheelchair lift.

In 1973, Ralph’s company developed the first raised-top, raised-door van conversion, which is often thought of when people picture full-size handicap vans.

The year 1987 was a busy one for the mobility industry. By this time, competitors had crept into the space, which offered customers a wider selection when it came to personal mobility. However, lacking a proper inspection and accreditation process, not all the earliest designs by newcomers were ideal.

Two industry changes happened in 1987. First, Freedom Motors founder Anthony van Dillen bought a rear-entry wheelchair van configuration design from the Netherlands and was the first to introduce it to the United States.

In the same year, Vantage Mobility International installed a ramp system onto a Chrysler minivan.

Finally, in 1989, NMEDA – or the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association – opened membership to mobility dealers on a national scale. This allowed the many companies interested in providing mobility products to customers the ability to certify their designs were tested and safe for operation. Today, BraunAbility is proud to have more certified products through NMEDA than any other manufacturer in the mobility industry.

Then, in 1991, the Braun Entervan was introduced, which was the name given to the side-entry lowered floor minivan. This product was so popular, it eventually became the flagship of the mobility line and today is still the number one design for our customers. This design is the culmination of a rich history of handicap vans, created by our founder Ralph Braun and enriched over time to be the refined, integrated design we have today.

Click here to learn more about modern handicap vans.