The Ins and Outs of Wheelchair Ramp Vans

Ramp vans typically use one of two primary systems that enable the wheelchair user to enter and exit an accessible van. The wheelchair lift is a motorized platform that raises and lowers an occupied wheelchair from the ground to the level of the van floor, where the wheelchair user rolls into and out of the vehicle. Wheelchair ramp vans are equipped with a ramp that leads from the door to the ground. So which is the better option for you?

The motorized lift is often preferred by those in manual wheelchairs, because people with disabilities often lack the upper-body strength to maneuver the incline of a ramp themselves, and pushing an occupied wheelchair chair up a ramp can be a struggle for a caregiver over time. Yes, going down the ramp is much easier than going up. A full-size van is better suited than a minivan for wheelchair users who sit extremely tall in their chairs, and full-size handicap vans are always equipped with a lift. Since most people are of average height, wheelchair vans with a ramp are far more prevalent in the marketplace.

Wheelchair van ramps can fold into the cabin of the vehicle or telescope out from a compartment installed beneath the sliding door. You have other choices, too:

Side Entry Ramp At the risk of stating the obvious, the side entry ramp deploys from the side of the van rather than the back. The side entry ramp is deployed after the power-operated door on the side of the van slides open. Ramps can be automatically activated or manually opened and closed. For maximum safety, a power ramp should have a manual override in case of a power failure. All AMS Vans side entry ramps are automated, with a manual override, and operation by remote control or controls inside and outside the door.

A side ramp can present a problem if you park in a two-car garage or in a non-handicap-accessible parking space, because you won't have enough room to deploy the ramp properly. That said, they work beautifully in handicap parking spaces and won't require you to open the ramp into oncoming traffic.

Rear Entry Ramp Usually less costly than a side ramp conversion, the rear entry ramp wheelchair van deploys from the back of the van and is typically better suited for the wheelchair user who prefers to sit in the middle or back of the vehicle. Manual operation is the standard for rear entry ramps, which accounts for the lower cost, but automated rear entry ramps are available. Long-channel rear entry ramps can accommodate two wheelchair users in a minivan. Rear entry ramps can be hazardous in some parking situations if you have to deploy the ramp into a lane of traffic.

Portable Ramp A lightweight, portable ramp offers flexibility in that you can use it for vehicle access as well as access to homes and buildings without handicap access. A portable ramp includes the same safety features (non-slip surface, side guards) as a permanently installed ramp, and these ramps typically fold up for easy portability.

Channel/Track Ramps Instead of one wide ramp, economical channel or track ramps have two ramps with slip-proof channels, with each one wide enough to accommodate one wheel of a wheelchair. Also portable, track ramps can be adjusted to accommodate wheelchairs of any width simply by spreading them further apart.

What to Look For in a Wheelchair Ramp

Wheelchair accessible ramp entry designs vary, but there are a few things to look for in a ramp that affect your safety and ease of use. As always, price is a factor. That said, some of these features are, or should be, non-negotiable.

Non-Slip Surface Also called an anti-slip surface or non-skid surface, a non-slip surface can be painted on or applied, like a rubberized coating. The need for a non-slip surface is indisputable, and most wheelchair van ramps are treated in some way to prevent slips and skids.

Sufficient Width Wheelchairs come in different widths, and so do accessible van ramps. Make sure the ramp on your chosen van is more than wide enough to accommodate your wheelchair.

Side Guard/Lip Side guards (or lips) on either side of the ramp help prevent your wheelchair from falling over the edge of the ramp during entry or exit.

Maximum Weight Wheelchair ramps have weight limits, and they vary, though most ramps can handle several hundred pounds. Always ask. Take both your weight plus the weight of the wheelchair into consideration.

Degree of Incline A lower incline or slope means an easier climb up the ramp. The ADA recommends a 2:12 slope, which means every 2" of vertical rise requires one foot of ramp (9.5 degrees of incline).

Manual/Motorized An onboard ramp can be manually operated or automated to deploy and retract at the push of a button. An automated ramp adds to the price of the conversion; if you choose an automated ramp, make sure it has manual back-up. If, for some reason, the vehicle loses power, you'll still be able to enter and exit.

Now that you know more about this essential part of handicap van conversions, go ahead and “ramp up” your search for enhanced mobility!