Working With a Mobility Consultant to Buy a Wheelchair Van

Buying a wheelchair accessible van is not something you do every day, so your knowledge about the process is likely limited. You’ll have to depend on two things to make sure you get the ideal handicap van for your needs—your own research and a mobility consultant at an accessible-van dealership. Start with your research.

The Internet is a good place to begin. Any number of wheelchair vehicle-related web sites will show you that you can:

  • buy a new or used accessible van
  • buy a van of your choice (new or used) and have it modified by a professional conversion company (NOTE: Some conversion companies will only modify specific makes and models and/or model years)
  • choose from a side entry or rear entry wheelchair access
  • be the driver or a passenger
  • select from a variety of van makes and models
  • spend a huge sum of money or opt for something affordable

Even when you have a little basic information, you’ll discover there’s much more that goes into the selection of a wheelchair van than you can gather on your own. You’ll need a mobility consultant to lead you the rest of the way to the freedom and independence provided by a handicap van.

Find a Mobility Consultant

All reputable wheelchair accessible van dealerships, whether online or local, have trained mobility consultants who’ll work with you on the details and make you aware of all your options, including the ones the consultant believes will work best for you. Whether by phone with an online, nationwide dealer or at a local dealership, your mobility consultant will need the following information in order to select the ideal van for you:

  • Who’s in the wheelchair?  The consultant needs to know if the person in the wheelchair is an adult or a child. This automatically reveals two important factors—the size of the wheelchair will be smaller for a child, and a child will be a passenger only, at least for a while.
  • Is it a manual wheelchair, a power chair or a scooter? Because they have different weights and maneuverability, the type of mobility chair helps pin down the best conversion style.
  • Will the wheelchair user be the driver or a passenger? This important question leads to more questions, because it determines a whole host of factors in choosing the right van for you.  If the driver with disabilities is ambulatory, it affects how the driver enters and exits the van. Does the driver want to drive while seated in the wheelchair or move to a transfer seat? (A transfer seat is more comfortable and considered safer.) The same question applies to the passenger in a wheelchair—remain in the chair or transfer to a front or mid-row seat?
  • What are the measurements of the chair? Mobility consultants must gather physical information: your weight; wheelchair or scooter measurements, including width from outside wheel to outside wheel, length from front to back, and height of the chair from the ground to the top of the user’s head while sitting in it.
  • Where does the wheelchair passenger want to be seated? Some wheelchair passengers prefer to sit in the front passenger position. Others prefer to sit in the middle or the back of the van. Your preference helps determine whether a side entry or rear entry design will work better for you.
  • Do you have a make, model and color preference for the van? Most online and local dealerships offer a variety of van makes and models that lend themselves well to conversion, like the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna and Volkswagen Routan. Whenever possible, a mobility consultant will make your vehicle preference a priority, though that often depends on your budget.
  • What’s your budget? If you’ve been spending thousands of dollars on medical costs, it’s possible you have budget concerns. This is when a mobility consultant can be particularly helpful. Experienced mobility consultants are knowledgeable about potential funding sources for handicap vans. They’ll make you aware of funding options like grants, low-cost loans, government programs, mobility rebates and more. When your method of payment has been established, your mobility consultant will ask for a deposit to put the rest of the process in motion.

The time between placing your deposit and delivery of your van will vary depending on what’s required to make the van ready for you. With a conscientious online van dealer or local dealer, every used van goes through a thorough multi-point checklist to qualify it as “certified used.” A used van with an existing conversion (new or used) might be in your driveway more quickly than an unmodified van scheduled for a new conversion. With the latter, you might have three-to-six weeks or more to build the excitement of having greater freedom and independence with your wheelchair accessible van.

While your van is preparing for its debut, your mobility consultant and the production manager should phone frequently to update you on the progress of your van. They’ll give you their personal contact information as well, along with the invitation to call whenever you have a question.

You’ll be notified by your mobility consultant when your van is ready for pick-up or delivery. Typically, if you’re picking up the van from the dealership, the consultant should have all the necessary paperwork ready and waiting for confirmation when you arrive. Full-service, online handicap van dealers deliver nationwide. If your van is delivered, the paperwork is prepared beforehand and arrives with the mobility professional (a direct extension of your mobility consultant) who delivers your vehicle. For better or worse, this part of the process may vary widely from dealer to dealer.

What’s Next?

The mobility professional (either your consultant or the individual who delivers your van) should explain and demonstrate all the features of the van until you feel comfortable and familiar with its operation. If you’ve purchased the van from a reputable online dealer, you should be given the opportunity at that time to look the van over carefully and have your mechanic inspect it, if you choose. Again, this policy can vary, depending on the dealership. A reputable online dealer will allow you to make a decision on the van at that point. If, for any reason, you’re unsatisfied with the van, the dealer will take back the van, no questions asked, and the sale is canceled. That rarely happens when the online wheelchair van dealership has a decade or more in the industry.

You’ll be happy to hear that’s not the end of your relationship with a mobility consultant (unless you absolutely want it to be!) Your consultant should call you within a few days to see how you’re enjoying your new van and to answer any questions that might have arisen in those first three or four days. Of course, you can always call your consultant with questions as they come up. Expect at least one more follow-up call from your consultant a couple of weeks down the road to make sure the van you purchased is working out for you exactly as expected!