If you’re considering purchasing or leasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle, it’s important that you think about exactly what you need from it. Here are a few notes on what to consider.
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles or WAVs as they are commonly known, are vehicles converted specifically for the needs of wheelchair users that find it difficult or impossible to transfer efficiently or comfortably into a car seat. This means that it may, therefore, be impractical for them to use an ordinary vehicle – even if it’s adapted.
In short, a WAV is a vehicle that allows wheelchair users to enjoy driving or being a passenger without the need to get out of their wheelchair.
Transferring from wheelchair to car seat can be a frustrating and difficult process that can sometimes end with injury. Furthermore, some disabled people rely on a specific wheelchair to give them the correct postural support. Of course, these benefits are lost once they transfer out of the wheelchair.
Once you’ve established that a WAV is a good idea, you’ll need to decide where the wheelchair user will be positioned within the vehicle. Choices will be influenced by factors including, primarily, where the wheelchair user would like to sit. They may not like to sit in the back because of a lack of visibility or that they cannot communicate easily with others in the vehicle – similarly, carers may want to sit in close proximity in case they are needed quickly. In all cases, the wheelchair user should have plenty of room to sit upright comfortably and without risk of banging their head if the vehicle hits a bump. (Think about the risks of other bumps caused by the wheelchair user’s uncontrolled movements.)
Disabled people’s driving ambitions don’t end if they’re unable to drive in a mainstream vehicle with adaptations. Oddly, you might never have noticed WAV drivers since to glance at, the driver looks like any other person sat behind the wheel, with their wheelchair hidden from view by the door panel. The wheelchair will be carefully secured with tie-downs, in the place where there might otherwise be a seat. This arrangement can also be tweaked so that wheelchair users can sit in the front passenger’s space. (Some options may not be possible when working with certain wheelchairs or powerchairs, for example.)
Caring for someone is difficult enough without struggling to manoeuvre either a wriggling (or growing) child, or heavy adult into a vehicle through an ordinary car door. A WAV enables a wheelchair user to be rolled up a ramp or lifted into the vehicle via a lift, which is also far safer for both carers and disabled people.
When you’re making a selection from a choice of such large vehicles, it can be easy to forget to look at some of the small but important points that could again, be the difference between a comfortable and convenient journey and a frustrating and tiring experience. Items on your checklist should include things like how easy it will be to secure the wheelchair and how the wheelchair user will enter and exit the vehicle. Different conversions will resolve these issues in different ways.
The two main options are:
Ramps – These usually slide out mechanically or automatically (via a hand control) from underneath the vehicle. You’ll need to note that the ramp will need space to deploy and further space for rolling off.
Lifts – Raises and lowers wheelchair and/or powerchair users from ground to the point where they can roll into the vehicle. They usually fold up behind the vehicle’s rear doors.
Taking it home
A home demonstration can alert you to potential difficulties that you hadn’t thought of. You’ll need to know that parking isn’t going to be an issue, for example. If you park off-road on a driveway or in a car park you may have more options than somebody forced to park on the roadside – where, for example, the wheelchair user will probably need to enter via the back of the vehicle, rather than through a side-entrance. This could also be the first time that you get to drive a WAV. Driving something that’s bigger than an ordinary car can be a daunting prospect. A test drive might be a good way to gain confidence, with the sales assistant helping you along.
Home demonstrations are also handy for looking at more of those small things such as how easy it is to use the features or how comfortable the seats are – and if the rest of the family fits in – not to mention how practical it is for shopping and luggage. The aim is to get it right before you make your selections so that you don’t need to take it back later – which will be inconvenient and could possibly cost more money.
Selecting a dealership
The Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters’ Association (WAVCA) will deal with complaints about their members; make sure the dealership you do business with is accredited by them.
A Motability lease for a WAV is five years so you’ll want to know that it suits all of your needs properly – and that means from the moment you purchase it until you hand it back to Motability. Most WAV users would advise purchasing a wheelchair before getting a WAV since it’s easier to work around the wheelchair user than the other way around. You also need to consider how your condition might change and possibly how your wheelchair needs might develop – or if the WAV is needed for a young person, how they’ll grow. It might be sensible to speak with healthcare professionals such as occupational therapists for advice.
The WAV market is competitive and it’s a good idea to shop around to find the best vehicle for you combined with a fair price and good customer service. It’s also worth repeating that a WAV lease is five years long so you’ll need to feel confident about exchanging your mobility benefit for that length of time, as well as budgeting for running costs, such as fuel. Purchasing a used WAV can be a very sound option. Even Motability has a dedicated scheme in place to help people to save money by leasing a nearly new WAV. Lots of the broader adaptations made to vehicles can suit a wide variety
of people and there are certain advantages regarding delivery times. Warranty and aftersales details will vary between dealerships.
Motability and charitable grants
Motability is a national charity, which can provide charitable grants to scheme customers who would otherwise struggle to afford the mobility solution they need. Motability takes into account a wide range of factors, including, how your disability impacts your mobility, household circumstances and financial means.
(Other charitable organisations also provide grants.)