Road Envy: Getting Out and About

There’s an accessible vehicle out there made just for you

Article Highlights:
  • Quest's 2012 roundup features a wide variety of vehicles and specialized equipment designed to assist people with disabilities in maintaining their independence on the road.
  • Online resources lead to local experts who can help you get the most for your money.
  • Do your research and get an evaluation before purchasing an adapted vehicle and equipment such as ramps, turning seats or hand controls.
by Richard Senti on July 1, 2012 - 3:07pm

QUEST Vol. 19, No. 3

If you're getting ready to shop for an accessible vehicle, be prepared to find options, options, options! These myriad possibilities are good news because they mean there’s probably a solution out there for your unique automotive challenge.

You’ll first need to answer a few key questions: Will you be driving, or will you be a passenger? Are you able to transfer into a vehicle seat, or do you need to stay in your wheelchair? Is your muscle weakness progressing quickly, or is it relatively stable?

Even if you already know what you need in an accessible vehicle, it’s a good idea to speak with an occupational therapist, especially if you’re planning to be the driver. An OT can help determine your current abilities and may point you toward a certified driver rehabilitation specialist for further evaluation, training and, potentially, a prescription for a driving system.

The Internet is of course a valuable source for information, but also talk to people who specialize in mobility issues and equipment.

An excellent online resource that can lead you to experts in your area is Automotive Mobility Solutions, the website of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. There, you can:

  • locate NMEDA-approved mobility dealers and driver rehab specialists in your area who can show you available options;
  • discover different types of driving aids and electronic controls for steering, acceleration and braking; and
  • find tips on financing, government funding and locating available rebates.

This article offers a peek at a variety of vehicles and equipment designed to help people with disabilities maintain their independence. Think of it as an overview, a starting point in your research. Happy hunting!

Note: Click on photo to enlarge; rollover to view cutline.

Bruno introduces new line of accessible turning seats

A mobility-accessible crossover SUV convertible? Why not? OK, maybe this Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is a bit impractical for you, but the Valet Plus power turning seats shown here can be installed in a wide variety of vehicles. If you can transfer, you can take advantage of the many options available from Bruno’s new seating line: programmable to your needs; full-seat recline with ergonomic levers, and many upholstery choices, including matching armrests. Starting price: $7,000 (installed). Visit the Bruno website to locate a dealer in your area, or check local phone listings.


Configure the BraunAbility Rampvan’s floor plan your way

If you’re able to drive, the Toyota Sienna Rampvan XT offers easily removable front seats. Simply unlock the seat base and roll out the entire seat assembly. Then drive your wheelchair up the fold-out ramp and, using one of several options, secure it in place behind the steering wheel with no transferring. (Of course, the vehicle will need to be properly equipped with hand controls appropriate to your abilities.) If you prefer to be the front-seat passenger, or to ride in the middle of the van, seating can be configured in those ways, too. A touch of the key’s remote automatically opens the sliding side door, lowers the suspension and extends the ramp. Base price: $55,000. BraunAbility, (800) 843-5438.


MV-1 designed with wheelchair users in mind

MV stands for mobility vehicle: No conversions are necessary, says maker VPG, because wheelchair accessibility is designed into every vehicle rolling off theline. With a low step-in floor, extra spacious entryway and interior and a within-floor ramp (manual or power), wheelchair passengers will find maneuvering into position a simple matter. With its special restraint track system, wheelchairs can be secured in a number of locations, including the front passenger position. The standard V8 engine is available with a compressed natural gas green option. Base price: $40,000. VPG, (877) 681-3678.


Put a pop top on your pickup

If you’re a full-size pickup truck owner who can transfer and drive, here’s a novel idea that keeps your wheelchair handy, safe and protected from the weather. An Access A Top conversion kit hinges the truck-bed top along the passenger side; at the push of a button, a piston arm raises the top, and activates a power lift to hoist a chair or scooter out of the bed and place it right next to the driver’s seat, ready for transfer. (Bruno lift shown here not included.) The kit fits full-size GM, Ford, Dodge and Toyota pick- ups and some other makes. Kits start at $5,500 (top and installation not included). Clock Mobility, (800) 732-5625. Contact Clock Mobility to locate a dealer in your area.


Northstar vans feature in-floor ramp system

For maximum interior space and a clean, obstruction-free design, consider Vantage Mobility’s Northstar conversions featuring an in-floor power ramp system in its side-entry minivans (Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, and the Chrysler Town & Country, shown here). At the push of a button, the ramp slides out from within the floor instead of using valuable interior space. With 11-inch lowered floors and its PowerKneel system to reduce the ramp angle, accessing a Northstar takes little effort. Chrysler Northstar base price: $52,800. Vantage Mobility, (800) 348-8267.


Freedom Motors’ X-WAV utility vehicle supports a sporty lifestyle

If a sport utility vehicle suits your purpose more than a minivan, consider FMI’s Honda Element X-WAV. The Element is already designed to maximize interior space, and with the X-WAV’s 10-inch lowered floor, there’s even more room to maneuver into place, whether you’ll be driving from your wheelchair or riding shotgun. Choose a fully automatic remote-controlled door and ramp combo, or a spring-assisted manual system. The ramp can be installed on either the driver or the passenger side. Prices start at $50,750. Freedom Motors, (888) 625-6335,.


Toyota Mobility hatchback for a cool, non-wheelchair-van look

There’s no law that says a wheelchair accessible vehicle can’t look cool. If you can transfer and have a driver, then you’re a candidate for this sporty Toyota Venza hatchback. Once you’ve transferred into the front passenger power turning seat, your companion attaches your scooter to the vehicle lift installed in the rear cargo area, and with the push of a button, stows it in place, ready for transport. (Seat and lift are made by Bruno.) Prices start at $36,500. Toyota Mobility, (800) 331-4331.


Viewpoint Mobility’s Vision rear-entry vans reduce parking limitations

Many wheelchair users prefer rear-entry vans because they can be more easily accessed in diagonal parking places, parking lots and even single-car garages. This Honda Odyssey Vision minivan has a counter-balanced manual ramp with a “full-cut” floor lowered to just behind the front seat center console. The wheelchair locks in place in the second row between two conventional bucket seats. An optional driver or front passenger seat slides back and swivels 90 degrees, allowing easy transfer from a wheelchair into front-row seating. Base price $45,000. Viewpoint Mobility, (877) 368-6022.


Rollx offers OnStar as your co-pilot

If you’d like the peace of mind of knowing help is always nearby, consider an option offered on Rollx Vans: OnStar FMV safety, navigation and communication technology. In addition to the full-size Ford E-Series van shown here, the service also is available on all new and used Rollx Chrysler, Honda and Volkswagen vans. The OnStar FMV system, which is housed in a special rear-view mirror, offers automatic crash response; turn-by-turn navigation; hands-free calling; Bluetooth wireless technology; voice recognition; and 24/7 in-person customer support. Price: $395 (includes installation). OnStar service packages start at $18.95 per month. Rollx, (800) 956-6668.



A pair of personal mini town cars

If you have upper-body strength and the ability to maneuver a manual chair, here are a couple of low-speed, low-cost options. The Kenguru (top) and Quovis (bottom), at first glance, look quite similar. Indeed, their overall concepts are the same: You drive these single-person vehicles from your own wheelchair — no transferring necessary. Both are designed only for driving around town — no freeway travel allowed. The back of each vehicle opens remotely and a ramp drops down, allowing you to move your chair into place and secure it.

Here’s where the differences begin. The Kenguru is electric-powered and steered with motorcycle-type handlebars; acceleration and braking are controlled with handlebar hand levers. The Quovis is powered by a two-cylinder gas engine and controlled by a steering wheel and hand controls. If upper-body strength and mobility are poor, both cars offer options. The Quovis can support a standard-sized power wheelchair and be controlled by an optional computer-aided joystick. Kenguru has a model coming out next year that will accept a power chair and feature an adjustable joystick controller that can be precisely positioned to the driver’s ergonomic needs. Kenguru: $25,000, (888) 477-7106. Quovis: $20,000, (410) 758-1225.

More accessible vehicle ideas

Milford Person Lift

The lift transfers a person effortlessly from a wheelchair into most vehicles. A sling is fitted around the user in the wheelchair, attached to the portable lifting arm and, powered by the vehicle’s battery, is operated with a remote control. The same rig also can be used in home and bathroom situations. Price: $4,500. Autochair, (855) 288-6242.


Chariot lift on wheels

Easily transport your power chair or scooter, even with a small car. With platform in the ground position, a wheelchair is driven smoothly into place and secured with special belts. A push of a button raises the platform and chair into travel position. Swivel wheels with independent suspension means no jackknifing when backing up. Price: $4,200. Visit the Bruno website to locate a dealer in your area.


Specialized driving controls

If you can drive but have very specialized physical needs, Mobility Products & Design most likely has a control system for you. They offer a wide variety of hand, foot, extension and steering controls in addition to transfer boards and transfer seat bases. To see the full product line, request the “Drive Innovation” booklet or “Product and Information Guide.” Mobility Products & Design, (800) 488-7688.

To learn more about some important questions consumers should ask before purchasing adapted vehicles and equipment, read Accessible Vehicles Q&A, Quest, July-September 2009.

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