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Arkansas's leading transportation headquarters for the physically challenged.

Where do I start? What might I need? What's right for me?

These are just a few of the questions, among many, that you might ask yourself as you go about selecting the vehicle and equipment you need to become independently mobile. The following information is compiled to assist you in selecting the proper vehicle and adaptive equipment for your mobility or the mobility of a family-member, friend or client.

To assess the physical and psychological capacities needed to drive, you must ask yourself a number of questions.

First...

WILL I BE A DRIVER?

  • Can I handle the mental and physical stress and strain of driving?
  • Will I be able to transfer to a driver seat or will I need to drive from my wheelchair?
  • Will I need special modifications to operate the vehicle?

OR WILL I BE A PASSENGER?

  • Will I be able to transfer to a car or van seat or will I need to ride in my wheelchair?
  • What are my preferences for seating position, visibility, etc?
  • If I can transfer, is a Companion Seat® right for me?

Acquiring Information

Acquiring the correct information to answer these questions will require the assistance of profession persons.  Of course, your doctor and physical therapist will have input, but the assistance of an adaptive driving evaluator is recommended.  A driving evaluator can be contacted through a rehabilitation center near you.

Many major rehabilitation centers conduct complete driver evaluation programs which are certified by their state's department of vehicles.  This includes a pre-driver evaluation, behind-the-wheel lessons and assistance in licensing.  Pre-driver evaluation includes testing eyesight, motor control, judgment and reaction time.

Driving programs stress that a consultation with your physician is necessary to make sure that you are physically and psychologically prepared for the driving experience.  If you are evaluated too soon after your injury, there is the danger of recommending too much equipment and, consequently, spending money on adaptive equipment you will not need in the future.  After a traumatic experience such as a spinal cord injury, there is a great deal to relearn.  Don't put too much pressure on yourself too soon, even if you feel that you might be prepared.

Most driver evaluation programs utilize vehicles with hand controls and steering devices to instruct clients.  Some cars have a Chair Topper® mounted on the roof which mechanically loads and stores the wheelchair for the driver or passenger.  Most programs also operate a fully-modified van for people who drive from their wheelchair.  The van may have a raised top as well as a lowered floor.  It may also have a Vangater II® wheelchair lift with power doors on the side cargo door and a remote control entry device.  Some driving programs are including the lower floor minivan conversion, such as the Braun Entervan®.  You may even be able to try out the Braun Companion Seat® Assistive Power Seat Base.  This device extends the passenger seat from the side of a Chrysler minivan and gently raises you into the vehicle.

After entering the vehicle, the evaluator can determine if you will drive from your wheelchair or from a power seat.  The power seat base moves electrically into position next to you so that your transfer may be comforable and safe.  Generally, if you can transfer, you should drive from the van seat which is bolted to the floor.  If you cannot transfer, an electric wheelchair tie-down can be added along with special stabilizing belts to secure you and your wheelchair behind the steering wheel.

There are many different types of driving controls and assistive driving devices.  These include hand controls for throttle and brake, extended steering columns to position the wheel at the proper height, lower effort steering and braking, and modified vehicle switches.  In a driver training vehicle, it may take a few sessions to fit this equipment to you.  Once you have an evaluation from an instructor, you can begin to shop for a vehicle.

Finding a Vehicle To Adapt

Most driver education programs have a list of adaptive vehicle suppliers and/or modifiers in your area.  Or, you can either call Braun at 1-800-THE LIFT, or log onto their web site and be referred to your closest Braun Distributor.  Although not on every corner, there are more adaptive equipment distributors and more choices than you might anticipate.  These companies will either modify a vehicle you already own, or they may provide you with a completely modified vehicle.  Too often, people go to the local auto dealership and buy whatever car or van the auto salesperson recommends without consideration whether or not it can be modified for their needs.  The auto salesperson may think he has the best vehicle on the market, but he usually does not understand a disabled person's needs as well as an adaptive equipment distributor.

Due to the cost of conversion, the time spent doing your homework will ultimately pay off in savings.  Extras, such as middle captain's chairs and front overhead consoles in vans, may go to waste if you purchase them from an auto dealer and then learn that they must be removed to adapt the vehicle.

Your Braun Distributor knows that the vehicle you purchase must have a suspension that is heavy enough to accommodate the weight of conversion, yet light enough to give a good ride.  A heavy-duty electrical system, heavy-duty service options and factory-installed power accessories are all important features to purchase on your van.  Visit your local Braun Distributor before making a vehicle purchase.  In addition to knowing which vehicles are most easily modified, they often purchase many vehicles from dealers and know where to shop for the best buys.  Some Braun Distributors have demonstrators or pre-owned vans that can be suited to your needs with little modification and purchased for a reasonable price.

Driving From Your Wheelchair

Both full-size and minivans come in many shapes and sizes.  If you will be driving from your wheelchair, additional questons will arise.  You need to decide if you want a lowered floor, a power pan or a raised top and doors for entry.  Because these options may involve removal of the auxiliary gas tank and increase overall height of the vehicle, it is best to consult your Braun Distributor before making any decisions.

Do I Want a Full-size or a Minivan?

In recent years the low floor minivan conversion has become available to disabled motorists.  The lowered floor allows a wheelchair user access to both the driver and front passenger area.  This vehicle may employ a system that lowers it within inches of the ground and then unfolds a ramp for entry and exit.  Low floor minivans, like the Braun Entervan®, let you sit in the front and see out of the windows.  These minivans will fit into standard height garages, but they still require approximately eight feet of access - the same as a full-size van with a platform lift.  A discussion of the pros and cons of each vehicle with your Braun Distributor can be helpful.

Side-door Mounted Lift Options

Options include the Vangater II® wheelchaiir lifts.  These unique lifts feature a folding platform, which allows ambulatory access to side door.  Also, the front passenger seat can be fully reclined in most installations.

Rear-door Mounted Lift Options

The rear-mounted lift also requires eight feet of space to access the vehicle.  If you are riding in the rear of the van, the middle seat can be left in place for an ambulatory passenger.

Under Vehicle Lift Options

The Under Vehicle Lift mounts on the outside of a full size van and the platform is stowed underneath the vehicle.  This provides a completely unobstructed doorway with a full window view and greater interior space.  Normal passenger seating with a full range of seat adjustment is allowed.  Eight feet of access space is needed at the side of the van to board the platform.  You may want to consider this type of lift if you need free doorway access and more interior room for ambulatory and wheelchair passengers.

What To Tell Your Braun All-Star Distributor

You should know how tall you sit in your chair, measuring from top of head to ground.  You should also know the overall length and width of your chair.  If possible, use the chair you intend to travel in when you visit your Braun Distributor.

These dimensions will help your dealer determine the modifications you need.  For example, the door height of a standard full size van is about 48 inches, a minivan is about 44 inches.  Knowing these heights and your height will tell the dealer whether or not you need a lowered floor or a raised door.

Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions.  Remember, it is easier to change at this stage than after the vehicle is built.  When you visit the Distributor, there should be some vehicles for you to try out.  This is an ever-changing industry, and new products are being introduced every day.  Your local Braun Distributor will be knowledgeable about today's products.  You should certainly ask for references and to examine the work that the Distributor has done in the past.  Ask if they have any customers with a vehicle that is similar to the one you are planning to purchase.

Ask about service and warranty programs.  Be sure to compare the warranty's time period with the degree of coverage offered.  Are all parts covered, or just the major components?  Are they (your dealer) part of a national dealer network, so you can have warranty work done anywhere in case of emergency?  Have they, their sales representatives and their technicians attended a Braun Sales and Service School within the last three years?

This is a big investment, and the best way to make an informed decision is to be an educated customer.  Read about these products and, if possible, attend trade shows in your area.

Paying For Your Conversion

A new vehicle, including modifications for your needs, can be an investment of $20,000 to $50,000.  In some cases, you may be eligible for assistance.  If you are a veteran, contact the VA.  Your state's Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Spinal Cord Commission or Division of Developmental Services may also provide financial asssistance.  If you have private insurance, either health or workman's compensation, check your eligibility with your insurance carrier.  Many automobile dealers can finance the mobility package along with your vehicle and provide you with a monthly payment plan at competitive interest rates.  Your Braun Distributor may know of other local sources as well.

A doctor's prescription is accepted in most states to exempt the purchase of your adaptive equipment from sales tax.  Consult a qualified tax accountant regarding any income tax credits.  Major vehicle manufacturers have rebate programs that help pay for modifications.

After you have evaluated all of your options, you are ready for purchase.  A van must be custom-fitted to you, just like your wheelchair.  With professional guidance, good evaluation of your personal needs and research of the adaptive equipment that is available, your van purchase will be a learning experience which will lead you to an even more independent and productive lifestyle.

Further information concerning adaptive equipment is available by contacting Accessibility Specialties, Inc. at 1-800-429-6664, or by contacting The Braun Corporation at 1-800-THE-LIFT.

Above information was provided by The Braun Corporation.

 
Rehab Equipment
Mobility Products
Reclining Lift Chairs
Hand Controls
Wheelchair Lifts
Scooter Lifts
Power Seat Bases
Steering Devices
Extended Van Tops
Lowered Floor Vans/Trucks
Raised Van Doors
Van Ramps
Modular Aluminum Ramps
Automatic Door Openers
Ceiling Lifts
Stair Lifts/Elevators

Accessibility Specialties, Inc. now offers financing for your disability needs. Through Arvest Bank, we can assist you in receiving affordable financing, allowing you to get started on adaptive assistance solutions that will work for you.

Arvest Bank is a member of the FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender.
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