Conversion Options for Wheelchair Accessible Vans

You’ve heard the architectural mantra “Form follows function.” Basically, it means that the shape or style of an object should be based on its intended function or purpose. With handicap vans, form and function go hand-in-hand. There are six basic conversion options for accessible vans, with some mix-and-match opportunity. Let’s take a look:

  • Rear Entry
    In this style, the rear entry point of a full-size van or minivan is modified for wheelchair accessibility. A rear entry accessible vehicle positions the wheelchair user in the back or middle of the van rather than the front passenger seat, and certain parking situations might require you to deploy the ramp into traffic. The rear entry ramp van is more economical than the side entry.
  • Side Entry
    For wheelchair users who want to drive, sit in the front passenger seat or sit just behind the front seats, the side entry conversion offers the most flexibility, also allowing for extra passenger seating and cargo space. Handicap van parking spaces are designed to provide ample room for the side entry ramp to deploy and the wheelchair user to exit and enter easily. Side-entry accessible van owners should avoid parking spaces where the adjacent vehicle can park too close to the wheelchair entry/exit side of their van.
  • Long Channel Rear Entry
    The long channel rear entry is not offered by all conversion manufacturers. Only newly converted AMS Vans wheelchair vans are equipped with a long-channel rear-entry conversion that lets you transport two wheelchair users, along with other passengers, safely and comfortably.
  • Ramp
    One of two primary methods of getting you into the vehicle and out again, the ramp (manually operated or motorized) extends from the handicap van to the ground, and they work extremely well on high city curbs and snowbanks. Ramps are available in different lengths. If you have a power chair or scooter, the length and incline of the ramp can be shorter than if you have a manually operated chair, which requires a longer ramp with a gradual incline to make navigating the ramp much easier. For rear entry and long channel conversions, manual ramps are standard, but you can upgrade to a powered ramp. Typically, powered ramps are standard on the side entry. Bi-fold ramps fold in the middle and save interior space; telescoping ramps require more maintenance, are less reliable and are costly to be repaired.
  • Motorized Platform Lift
    Platform lifts usually use a hydraulic mechanism to lift the platform from the ground to the door of the van. The flat platform, slightly ramped on both sides, rests on the ground to allow the wheelchair user to ride onto it. Restraints are attached from the platform to the wheelchair for safety. At the push of a button, the lift raises the wheelchair to the threshold of the door, where the restraints are disconnected and the wheelchair rolls right into the vehicle. The process is reversed for exit, and the lift stores either inside the van or under the van for travel.
  • Kneeling Capability
    You’ve probably seen city buses kneel for riders with disabilities. In a handicap van, a kneeling system lowers the rear suspension in order to decrease the incline of a wheelchair ramp or to fall flush with a curb. Before you spend money on kneeling capability, be absolutely sure it’s essential to your entering and exiting the van. If you have a power chair or a caretaker, you may not need one. Ramps and lifts perform beautifully without the need for a kneeling system.