How-to Make a Van Handicap Accessible

There are many struggles facing those who are mobility inhibited in today's world. Of course, there have also been many innovations and more and more people are becoming aware and grasping a better understanding of the legitimate needs of the mobile-impaired community. To that end, there is a growing abundance of information available to those looking for better options when it comes to their transportation needs. Whether equipped with a wheelchair, electric scooter, or another mobility device, these tips will help you turn your vehicle into a more comfortable and efficient ride.

Careful Considerations

Conversion Worthiness

The make, model, year, and mileage of your vehicle will be the determining factors in deciding whether or not the vehicle is fit to be converted into a handicap accessible vehicle. Many unmodified minivans are perfect candidates for conversion of this sort. Check your vehicle's information. If you're unsure or don't know where to find it, call the manufacturer or dealership and ask for their records from the bill of sale. This initial information is vital and may determine the difference between conversion and a possible, typically more expensive, trade in or purchase option.

Side vs Rear Entry Options

An increasing number of handicap accessible vehicle on the market today are made with side-entry access functionalities. The many benefits of side-entry access vehicles are as follows:

  1. Some vehicles with side-entry access allow for handicap able people to drive themselves.
  2. Provides a more natural and efficient entering and exiting process.
  3. Allows for closer interactions with driver and other passengers.
  4. Allows for more space to include more able-bodied passengers.
  5. Powered ramps offer different angles to increase comfort and support.
  6. Wheelchair Lifts vs. Ramps on Accessible Vehicles
Aside from the benefits listed above, many who have made use of side-entry and rear-entry vehicles have noted the side-entry method provides a great sense of comfort and relief as there is less 'spectacle' surrounding them.

There are, of course, advantages to rear-entry accessibility, as well. Those being:

  1. Of the two, generally speaking, this is the much more affordable option.
  2. Vehicle conversion process is simpler (removal of rear bench and addition of ramp installation).
  3. Side-entry access limits available parking spaces. With rear-entry accessibility, all parking spaces are able to be utilized.
  4. High ground clearance as the center of mass in the vehicle is raised. This decreases the chances of the vehicle's chassis scraping pavement on uneven roads.
Regardless of which style of entry you choose, keeping in mind the wants and needs of the rider in question is essential to ensure a successful vehicle conversion- the first time around.

Power Transfer Seat Base

Utilizing a transfer seat is not only more efficient but also allows for better comfort. A quality power transfer seat base will provide easy access for the rider to switch between seats, including from passenger to driver. Other benefits of installing a power transfer seat base include:
  1. Increased safety
  2. Enhanced comfort
  3. Better functionality
  4. More aesthetically pleasing
  5. Ability to retain original factory seat functions
  6. Adjustability for use by multiple drivers
The design specifications and safety engineering involved in the manufacturing and installation of a power transfer seat base are by far one of the best conversion decisions you will make for your vehicle.

Staying Secure

Safety is, of course, the number one concern when it comes to anything regarding vehicles, but most especially when converting a vehicle to be used in a new way. Further compounding the need for extra security measures is the precious and fragile cargo on board. Taking precautions by installing the very best in quality and reliability will ensure peace of mind wherever your travels may take you.

Whether you choose to go with a strap or docking system, always do the research before purchasing any parts or products online to ensure: A.) It is the correct product B.) It meets all of your vehicles specifications- if you are unsure, contact the seller and C.) The seller is a legitimate manufacturer or reseller of the product. Sadly, as with any industry these days, there are scammers and those who take advantage of others. Safety, in this aspect, refers not only to the physical well-being of the driver and passengers of the vehicle in question but also to the process of gathering the proper components for a successful conversion as well.

Hand Controls

Another innovative option for those considering converting their vehicle into a handicap accessible one is the integration of hand controls. If one's lower mobility is limited, hand controls can allow them to drive flawlessly. It is imperative to understand the full abilities and limitations of the driver in question to ensure the safest experience for those within and without the vehicle. Taking precautions is a necessary step. Having safeguards in place does not undermine the driver's ability, rather gives them the tools necessary to perform at their best should they need them. This not only serves to empower the driver and instills confidence in them and those around them but also provides further safety measures to ensure the well-being of others who may be unaware of the capabilities or lack thereof the driver may or may not possess. Hand controls for those with limited lower mobility is a worthwhile investment of time and resources.

Remote Operation Abilities

With so many technological innovations throughout the world in just the past few decades, it is interesting- and beneficial- to note all the new technologies in each industry. When it comes to those looking to convert their vehicles into handicap-accessible vehicles, they will notice the improvements in this corner of the market as well. Many electric ramps now come equipped with technological advancements which allow for remote operations. The days of struggling to lift and maneuver a bulky, heavy metal ramp into position and back again are long gone. Even surpassing the simple button-lift technology, remote operations allow for hand-off access at a distance. Allowing for busy parents, caregivers, and handicapable people to more efficiently manage their time when coming and going. A seemingly small detail, this is one fairly affordable investment that is definitely worth it.

Conversion Kits

There are many well-qualified companies which will convert your vehicle for you. There are also services which provide do-it-yourself style conversion 'kits'. Some of these kits come pre-stocked with parts according to the specifications of your vehicle. Others offer the ability to customize your conversion kit. Do a bit of comparison shopping before making a final decision. Read on for further last minute tips before you begin your search.

Handicapable Hints

There are many routes to choose when deciding how best to convert your vehicle into a handicap-accessible ride. But whichever option you pick, there are a few key pieces of advice to remember before going through with any purchase. Make a list of the driver and/or passenger in question's wants and needs.

Prioritize this list and keep it as a guideline to use when comparison shopping.

  • Understand and accept any limitations put forth by the handicapped individual. There is a time to push the limits- behind the wheel or inside a motor vehicle is not one of them (unless directly approved by the appropriate authorities and/or medical professionals).
  • Safety is the number one priority. Read reviews and cross-check every business or person before purchasing anything, especially when dealing strictly online and/or revealing sensitive information (such as banking or personal address information).
  • Always, always ask questions if there is something you don't understand. It is much better to ask a million seemingly silly questions until you grasp the concept or figure out the issue than to push on and purchase the wrong component, thus putting your life and the lives of others in jeopardy.
  • If something feels wrong- don't go through with it. Whether is finalizing a purchase or the actual installation of a part- if you feel there is risk involved, stop and take the time to tackle the issue. It is really not worth the risk and the ramifications if you press on could be potentially fatal, or, at the very least, monetarily devastating.

Conversion Conversation

The benefits of a handicapped person having access to a handicap-accessible vehicle are endless. Many have asserted before they had access to a vehicle which allowed room for them, they were confined to the bare minimum of travel opportunities. Such activities as a simple trip to church or the grocery store can be daunting to an individual experiencing limited mobility issues.

The range of issues afflicting those bound to a wheelchair or electric scooter to get around spread from congenital diseases to car accidents and anything and everything in between. Whether the immobility is permanent or temporary, the individual's quality of life will be drastically affected, as will the lives of those closest to them. There is a slew of information available and support groups for those who may need them, but eliminating stressors in the first place is a great place to start to ensure a peaceful experience. Patience, empathy, and genuine concern will go a long way in creating the most positive environment possible. Conducive to a pleasant atmosphere is an attempt to deliver the best performance and ease of access abilities as possible. Whether buying for yourself, a loved one, or a client, the parts and pieces which go into your converted vehicle will not only affect the vehicle's performance but, in the grander scheme of things, that of the relationships which develop within as well.

Converting a vehicle which is currently being used has the added benefits of 'feeling like home', rather than purchasing a- typically much more expensive- new handicap-accessible vehicle. With the advent of conversion kits and innovative technologies, the ability of the layman to produce an effective and safe end result has drastically increased. It is not necessary to be a mechanic or engineer to be able to compose the vehicle to your discretions. Simply taking the time to educate yourself and take the necessary precautions before moving forward with finalizing any purchase can, and will, provide an advantageous outcome.

Getting involved in local communities with similar goals and interest also has proven benefits. Besides finding likeminded individuals who are facing the same issues as you, there are likely to be others who are either more knowledgeable in any given area and/or may provide resources otherwise unavailable to you. Check local group listings on Facebook or Meetups or another similar site and start asking questions and introducing yourself. You may be surprised at the bevy on information and tips which is laid at your door.

If you are still a bit apprehensive about jumping into the do-it-yourself conversion process, there are many informative videos on YouTube and all across the web. Many professionals understand the complexities of living in certain lifestyles and have made the choice to reach out and show others the best ways to ensure quality results. Find the professionals who specialize in the areas in which you're seeking information and glean all you can from them. The many do-it-yourself videos available on YouTube, itself, are also a viable option. The only danger there is ascertaining whether or not the individual in question is qualified and knowledgeable. That information is fairly easy to find, though, so one can rest easy once they know they have a sure-fire path to success.

Once you have your checklist and a deeper understanding of your vehicle and its specifications and any driver and/or passenger limitations, finding the right parts for your vehicle conversion project will be a breeze. The anxiety surrounding much of the conversion process stems from the uncertainty of the person manipulating the changes involved. Having a strong support system and an openness to asking questions and receiving advice can mean the difference between a failed project and wasted time, resources, and money, and making a trip to your family's for the holidays. There is always a better way, so if you find yourself struggling, reach out. Chances are someone- probably more than one person- has had the same issue and may know how to get around it or have a better way.