What Do I Do First?

Choosing the Right Adapted Automotive Vehicle

When choosing the right adaptive automotive vehicle -- one that accommodates and/or carries a power wheelchair, manual wheelchair or scooter -- you need to know what to do and what NOT to do first.

For instance, do NOT go to your neighborhood car dealer and purchase a vehicle without first doing your homework. And do NOT believe that just any minivan, van or SUV can be adapted or fitted with ramps or vehicle lifts -- no matter what the car dealer says.

While some local car dealers are well versed in adaptive automotive needs, many are not. Your best bet is to first go to www.nmeda.org -- the Web site for the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), whose members specialize in adaptive automotive equipment of all kinds. Whether you’re looking for a way to carry a scooter on the back of your current car, need to drive a car while sitting in your wheelchair, or want to transport a power wheelchair passenger, NMEDA members can help. The Web site offers general information on automotive access products and functions, plus a dealer locator to find a NMEDA member near you.

Your Adaptive Automotive Checklist

You can also streamline the vehicle search process by having the following information available when you speak to the mobility dealer you’ve chosen:

1. What does the vehicle need to accomplish? Does it need to carry a scooter or wheelchair -- and if so, do you want the scooter/wheelchair transported inside or outside the main vehicle cabin? Is the wheelchair user going to drive the vehicle or be a passenger? Will the wheelchair user remain in the wheelchair during transport?

2. What kind of scooter/wheelchair needs to be transported? Be ready to give the size (overall width, height and depth, including supplemental equipment such as ventilators or trays) and weight of the scooter or wheelchair.

3. Where will the automotive vehicle be stored? Write down the measurements of the garage or building space available, including the clearance space of any doors and ground/floor space to the side and rear of the vehicle, since ramps and lifts need room to unload.

4. What environment will your vehicle most often be in? Inclement weather and difficult road conditions can impact the type of vehicle you choose.

5. Who else will regularly ride in the vehicle? If this vehicle will be used for carpooling or soccer team practice, your mobility dealer will need to know. Don’t forget to mention your service animal, if you have one!

6. What are the accessibility and transport needs of the wheelchair/scooter user? It’ll be helpful to describe the person’s age, height and weight, diagnosis, positioning requirements and any other special needs. If you need help determining what those special needs are or how they will affect your vehicle choice, consult your occupational or physical therapist, or visit the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) at www.driver-ed.org. ADED members can assess everything from passenger requirements to what types of controls are needed for a wheelchair user to drive entirely by hand.

7. What is your budget, and how do you plan to pay for the vehicle? Ask your mobility dealer about financing and funding options, including possible assistance from vocational rehab, Veterans Affairs or automotive manufacturer rebates.

The good news: New technology and new awareness of mobility needs have created an abundance of adaptive automotive choices. Ford, GM, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volvo all have mobility programs; at the 2007 Abilities Expo (www.abilitiesexpo.com) consumer show in Long Beach, Calif., adapted Honda Elements and Toyota Scions shared space with full-size vans, minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks. Aftermarket manufacturers offer ramps, lifts and driving controls that can be retrofitted to many vehicles as well.

The right adapted vehicle for you is out there, waiting on a showroom or waiting to be built to your specifications. But save yourself time and money by consulting an adaptive automotive specialist before you start down the road to vehicle ownership.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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