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
To assess the physical and psychological
capacities needed to drive, you must ask yourself a number
- 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?
- 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 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
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
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
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
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
Do I Want a Full-size or a Minivan?
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.
Above information was provided by The