Wheelchair Adapted Vehicles (WAVs) are the ideal choice for families that have a wheelchair user in their care. Here’s what to look for when making your selection.
An everyday car, be it hatchback, saloon or anything else, is generally centred on the driver in terms of providing comfort and safety. Of course, careful consideration is also made for the passengers who are usually given plump seats and handy fold away cup-holders or glove boxes to help make their trip equally convenient. A wheelchair adapted vehicle is based on a similar set of principles but in a slightly different order of priority. In short a WAV is designed to have specific design benefits for the wheelchair user, be they passenger or driver. (Since we’re looking specifically at ‘care’ issues, we’ll work to the theory that the carer will be the driver.)
Most of the time, with a bit of forward thinking and preparation, the purchase of a WAV goes very smoothly and everyone gets what they want from the vehicle, although it is worth pointing out that of the number of customers reporting an issue to Motability (the organisation that runs the popular motor leasing scheme) around half said that they could have avoided problems with a bit more research during their selection process.
In simple terms a WAV is literally a vehicle that can be accessed with a wheelchair. This is the crowning benefit above all others and above that of an ordinary jalopy since it requires no transfer of wheelchair user into the car’s seats and therefore no storage of their wheelchair during the journey – since they’ll be sat on it. It’s a no-nonsense process that is relatively quick and thanks to well enforced regulations, very safe.
Because wheelchairs usually require quite a bit of space, it follows that WAVs need to be pretty big. With this in mind, they are usually based around various van models.
Specialist WAV converters design the new interior whilst preserving the integrity of the engine and exterior. Whilst the vehicle might still be a Renault, Peugeot or Ford etc on the outside, the conversion company ‘owns’ the rights to specific conversion procedures. They work with the original manufacturers in making sure that the outcomes are durable and safe.
Generally, WAV’s are built around the passenger since their needs require more attention both as a customer and therefore ‘mechanically’ – with regard to the conversion. Your needs as the driver are likely to be solved by adjusting heights and angles of seats and so on – and that can be done later without too much bother.
There is, however, practical sense in making sure that you’re completely happy with the selection. Firstly, you’ll be driving. Even if you’re only likely to be making short journeys, you’ll want to do so efficiently and comfortably. In fact, realistically, you’ll kind of want the driving to take care of itself since you’ll have the person you care for in the wheelchair spot and they might require more attention and energy than you anticipate. Not having to concentrate on annoyances in the driving zone will help a great deal – so it’s got to be right.
As I’ve already mentioned, generally, WAVs are quite large vehicles and probably a different shape to anything you might have driven before. With this in mind, it is definitely a good idea to take a test drive that involves not only driving down the road but also reversing and manoeuvring into parking spaces and so on.
Getting It Right
Although driving a larger vehicle can be quite nerve-wracking to start with, you’ll soon find that you settle down and of course things like power assisted steering and (the usual) automatic gearbox will help you. The essentials are that you have decent front and back visibility and that you feel comfortable behind the wheel. (In this sense, it’s no different from purchasing any other type of car.)
The demo gives you an opportunity to look at the features that’ll be most important to your passenger, the wheelchair user. Because they won’t need to transfer from their wheelchair as they would in a conventional car, the first thing to examine is how easy getting them into the vehicle is going to be (as well as how it all happens).
Top of the list is going to be the ramp versus lift decision. Generally speaking, if you have a larger patient and wheelchair combination, you’ll have a larger WAV and these usually have space to incorporate a lift mechanism. A smaller WAV is likely to have a ramp that folds up behind the back door or slides underneath the floor. (Both systems are normally controlled through a hand unit.)
Out and About
Of course, you’ll need to practice deploying the systems and getting everyone in and out of the vehicle, noting whether you have enough space for luggage, equipment (and shopping) as you go. You should also take note of just how much space you’ll need behind you; not only to deploy the ramp but also adding space for rolling the wheelchair off and on too. Home demonstrations are not uncommon and this gives you an accurate picture of how exactly it’s all going to work on the ground. (You’ll also need to start making a mental note at the places you’re likely to drive to, such as the supermarket and the like.)
The practical side of things regarding your passenger will also need to be explored, namely, is the headroom sufficient and the width accommodating enough for them? Keep in mind that you may, during the lifetime of the vehicle lease, choose to change or upgrade your wheelchair and in doing so alter some of your passenger’s needs – this is especially true for kids, because they grow so quickly. Discussing this with the sales assistant is likely to yield solutions based on their expertise and experience. (I suspect that they would advise you to leave a little ‘growing space’.)
WAVs are a great way to extend the scope of a wheelchair user’s world. Once you’ve selected the right vehicle for both carer and wheelchair user alike, the open road is yours for the taking.