Accessible cars are not born, they are made
Almost ten years back, my middle son was born with multiple disabilities. Obviously I had a lot of worries at the time, but one of my biggest worries was how we handle accessibility challenges as he grew up.
For the first few years, my son did well getting around in a car seat and stroller. But when he was 3 years old it was clear how important it was for us to order the wheelchair first. He has cerebral palsy, and pediatric wheelchairs come with standard options to shape and align his body to grow well.
First, I tried to lift his seat to the back of my SUV. That lasted about a week before my back started to hurt, so I had to look into other options. I could not go to a mainstream car dealership: they do not offer affordable van packages, and most are, by no means, familiar with affordable options or features. Instead, I had to go to a specialty moving dealer. I met Nicole Bryson, owner of FMobility, a vehicle customization shop in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, that specializes in changing vans for disabled passengers and drivers.
Mobile shops change minivans, and some SUVs, to allow a passenger to travel in their wheelchair by placing a ramp on the side of the van or behind it. Rear entry vans can be modified with a long cut ramp or a short ramp. A long cut-off ramp allows the wheelchair to be pushed in between the two captain's seats in the second row, and a short cut holds the wheelchair behind the chairs. I knew I wanted a long ramp with a cut into the back. My three children are close to age, and that was the only way they could sit next to each other - something I preferred for my middle son 's social and emotional development. I also wanted my son to be close to the driver or front passenger in case he needs help when we are on the road.
Additionally, a side entry van can be a challenge to park. Most parking lots only have a few side entry points (those with blue lines that leave enough space for the ramp). If those spots are picked up, I have to rotate around until one opens. (And I can't let my young son off and then park the car.)
After exploring all of our options, I purchased a BraunAbility modified Toyota Sienna minivan with a rear entry ramp. I chose an automatic ramp, so when I press the stock button on the fob key, the lift gate opens and the ramp goes down automatically - a feature I like when I have to go to a busy car park with three children.
For an additional fee, I had to install FMobility EZ locking system. This handy add-on allows me to click my son's wheelchair into the van instead of tying it in four different places each time I get it in and out.
I have been driving this modified van for over four years now. I love the freedom it gives our family. In addition to the ease of access to the three children in the van, the amount of space behind the wheelchair is convenient. When there are only five of us, I can use that space for storage. I roll a card into the van after a trip to the grocery store. (This is especially helpful after running Costco.) Or we load the van with a beach card all ready and ready to go - no need to reassemble when we arrive. We can also carry smaller furniture or two or three children's bicycles. When we need space for more passengers, we have a jumper seat at the back which folds down to accommodate two more.
Finance and maintenance issues
Because the van has made our lives easier, there are some benefits. The cost of a van varies from $ 10,000 to $ 30,000, which is in addition to the original price of the vehicle. We were fortunate to find a state program with funding sources available to help us, but it is not an easy road, and these sources are not available to everyone.
Shipping companies, like BraunAbility, change vans already made for sale. They move parts around, such as the robot, the gas tank, and the air conditioner, to fit the ramp. The captain seats in the second row that came with our original van were removed and replaced with smaller seats to make room for the wheelchair.