Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

If your Mum or Dad uses a wheelchair to get around, either all the time or occasionally, you will be used to them having to help them with a ‘transfer’.  Transferring from their armchair into the car back and back into the wheelchair can be exhausting for all concerned.

No wonder many elderly and disabled wheelchair users think it’s not worth all the fuss to go out.  As well as being undignified and even painful for them, they can also see the strain it puts on you.
Very often the wheelchair user finds that, because it’s too much trouble, trips out become rarer and rarer, and their ‘world’ gets smaller. It can be even worse if your parent is resident in a care home.  When you visit, the most you can manage is a turn round the garden if the weather’s fine, or a couple of hours talking about the four walls they are seeing every day.   Less activity and stimulation means less for them to engage in and talk about.

Get your older relative out and about more easily

Imagine getting back to the way things used to be, when you would go out somewhere together for a shared experience.  It doesn’t have to be somewhere grand, – a trip to the shops or garden centre, the theatre or out to a riverside pub or a nice little tea room.   Now there’s more to talk about straight away , – and you are continuing to build up shared memories. With a wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) you can be out of the door, into the car and away in a matter of minutes.  The best WAVs have a low-cut floor and a lightweight rear ramp for easy access.  Your older relative stays in their wheelchair which, once securely locked down, becomes their seating position in the car, complete with their own seat-belt. They have a good view all round and other passengers can sit alongside them to enjoy the trip together.

How to buy or hire a wheelchair accessible vehicle

WAVs come in lots of different models to hire or buy, but they need to be chosen carefully to ensure the wheelchair will fit and your elderly parent will be comfortable with the ride. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are conversions of a standard production vehicle, converted for wheelchair access by specialist manufacturers.  If you are thinking about buying a new WAV, make sure you only buy from a Member of WAVCA (the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters’ Association).  All WAVCA members sign up to a code of practice which governs how they design and build their vehicles.  It also gives guidelines about how WAVs are sold. You can’t buy a WAV like you would any other car.  The decision as to whether a vehicle is right for you is less about what’s under the bonnet and much more about access & safely securing the wheelchair. Your WAV supplier will talk to you over the phone and ask certain questions about the wheelchair user and the size of their wheelchair.  They will also want to know who else will need to travel in the car (for seating numbers) and if there is a need to take any for luggage or additional other equipment, such as a spare wheelchair walking frame or an oxygen cylinder perhaps. It is also useful to advise them of any special requirements of the driver/attendant who will be responsible for getting the wheelchair user into the car and safely secured.  If they are frail themselves or need to drive with hand-controls, or simply automatic, then these are all important considerations as additional aids may be required. The WAV supplier should then be able to work out which of their models will suit you best, however you may need to call a number of different suppliers to give yourself a choice of models.  Alternatively, find an independent mobility consultant who can impartially recommend the best WAV model for your circumstances.

Buying second hand wheelchair accessible vehicles

Buying a second-hand WAV is even more of a minefield.  Not all WAVs on the market have been converted properly by a WAVCA company.  And as cars get passed on through the 2nd and 3rd owners it is easy for crucial pieces of equipment to be lost or replaced with the wrong part.  Always ask who the original WAV conversion was carried out by.  If the dealer does not know, don’t buy from them.  Ask about the warranty on the conversion too, and if they are cagey again, don’t buy from them.  The conversion process is extensive and involves processes like replacing the fuel tank, modifying the exhaust system, changing the vehicle suspension and replacing rear shock absorbers.  So a good warranty, from someone who knows what they are selling, will be crucial for your peace of mind. Never buy a new or a used WAV without trying it out, with the wheelchair user, in your home surroundings if possible.  Most reputable WAV suppliers will offer a free at-home demonstration.

Renting wheelchair accessible vehicles 

If you don’t think your situation call for buying a WAV, or if you want to try one out before buying, another option is to hire one.  Again, you don’t hire one like a standard car.  There are a few specialist WAV hire companies offering daily rental and longer term hires, but make sure they are asking you the same questions to ensure suitability as if you were buying one.  It is just as important. Once you have your WAV, whether it be for a day, a week or longer you can rest assured it will change all your lives forever. A former M.D. of a large UK WAV manufacturing company, Linda Ling has worked with private families, charities and public sector clients throughout the UK since 1983. Throughout her career she has pioneered the improvement of standards in the WAV industry, culminating with getting WAVs into European Automotive legislation. Linda now owns Fleximoblity, a specialist WAV solutions company.  Visit Fleximobility

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