Monday, June 4, 2007

Mobility 101: Checking out the Options

[visual description: The interior of a van is shown from a sideview. A man is seated in the driver's seat. Behind him is his wheelchair.}

]visual description: A woman is seated in a car that has both front and back doors open. The doors open like those of a plane's cockpit leaving an opening to lift in a wheelchair. Outside the car is her wheelchair with the wheels off.]

One of the most important aspects of quality of life for wheelchair users can be their mobility. Many wheelchair users can drive with hand controls or other adaptations but the question often becomes: where can I find an affordable vehicle to transport my wheelchair?

If you use a manual wheelchair, you may have several options depending on your ability to lift the wheelchair into a car. In the picture above to the left, a car similar to the one I use, a Saturn Ion Quad Coupe, is shown. Because the doors create a natural opening, the wheelchair can easily be lifted into the back seat of the vehicle without much upper body strength. This is aided by the low height of the car and a lightweight or ultralightweight manual wheelchair. Depending on your trunk control, you can add straps to hold yourself in the car as you bend over to lift the wheelchair. This car is a great option financially. It comes with the doors like this so you don't have to pay for additional modifications.

Some wheelchair users who are unable to lift their wheelchair into a vehicle and want their independence choose vans with either lifts or ramps. The photo to the right above shows the interior of such a vehicle. These vans can hold manual wheelchairs and, depending on the model, some power wheelchairs. It is important before purchasing a van to make sure that you have enough height clearance to comfortably clear the opening, have planned out whether you can transfer to a driver's seat, need a power assist driver's seat to help you transfer or need to remain in your wheelchair while driving. These modifications, as well as special driving controls, will ensure your safety and can be determined by an evaluation.

[visual description: A photo of a van with a rear entry ramp. Some vans have ramps or lifts with a side entrance.}

Many of my paraplegic friends drive cars or vans with no modifications except hand controls. They are able to dissemble their manual wheelchairs and put them into the car because their upper body strength is adequate.A few use a van and lift the entire wheelchair into the van behind them from the driver's seat. However, this arrangement does not work for everyone so before you assume you can do it, it's best to try it out on the particular vehicle you want to purchase.

I recommend reading message boards online (CareCure forum, to determine which cars work out well for others with similar disabilities. You can find message boards online for folks with MS, ALS, spinal cord injuries, MD, and other disabilities by googling (check my blogroll too).

A few cars are notoriously unsuitable for wheelchairs and just don't have enough room to hold them. The important thing to remember is that you may be putting your wheelchair in and out of the car numerous times a day - so research your options carefully before you spend your money on a new or used vehicle. Even though mobility is definitely a do-able goal for a wheelchair user, it's important to carefully consider all your options and take your time before making a purchase.


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've been looking for basic information on this subject before I start looking for a car for my son who is in a wheelchair. It's nice to know we're not the only ones confused by the options out there. This was a big help.


hotwheelz said...

I didn't know that Saturns came with doors like that without paying for a modification. Am going to check that out, thanks!

Edward said...

I considered a Saturn Ion Quad when I was recently shopping for a car. Unfortunately, the dealership I went to twice failed to get back to me when I asked them to investigate hand control dealers in the area.

Then in January, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo that I had been driving for over 6 years was diagnosed with a bad oil leak. I went to the Chevy dealer here in Morgantown for service, and while there I decided to look at what they had available on the lot. I wound up buying a new Chevrolet Cobalt, and the dealership was *very pro-active* in arranging hand control installation for me. In fact, they had it sent all the way to COLUMBUS, OHIO so that I could be driving my new car within the week, in time for a ski trip I was planning. (There were hand control dealers closer in the Pittsburgh area, but those dealers couldn't get my car in as soon.) Suffice it to say that I was very impressed by the customer service at University Motors in this matter.

(I have also been very impressed with the car itself. It gets excellent gas mileage - 36.5 mpg highway on a recent trip to Cleveland.)