Vehicle Modification

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Purchasing an accessible vehicle is a very important and often complicated process.  For many families, this is an emotional milestone, a visible sign that a family member has a moderate to severe, long term disability.  Self-propelling a manual wheelchair for any length of time is extremely tiring and requires an incredible amount of upper body strength and endurance, so most wheelchair users who have Mitochondrial disease require a power chair or scooter, if independent mobility is the goal. Power wheelchairs for adults can weigh up to 300 lbs even while unoccupied, so transportation in a standard vehicle is usually out of the question. Accessible transportation is crucial for a wheelchair-user’s independence, safety, and quality of life.

There are many factors involved when choosing an adapted vehicle. Before visiting dealers or searching online for used vehicles, several questions should be considered:

  • Who uses a wheelchair in the family? Are there more than one family members using wheelchairs? Will the user remain in the wheelchair while traveling? How many other passengers will be using the vehicle on a regular basis?
  • Try to imagine not only your family’s current needs, but also potential changes over at least the next 10 years. Is it possible for the wheelchair user to someday obtain a driver’s license? Does the user need to be able to enter the vehicle and secure the wheelchair without assistance?
  • What are your family member’s travel needs; is the vehicle necessary for transportation to and from work or school? How frequently does your family travel for medical appointments, and how far from home are you traveling? Is public transportation available and appropriate for your family?
  • Can your family afford to purchase a new accessible vehicle with a traditional vehicle loan? Are you considering used vehicles as well? Will you need financial assistance in the form of grants and/or loans specifically for individuals with disabilities?

Once you have a rough idea about your transportation needs, it is time to begin researching your options.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers an overview of accessible vehicle options, and addresses the factors listed above.  You can find this information here.

Ride-Away is a company that sells, rents, and leases accessible vehicles, but it provides lots of general information about conversion possibilities, including diagrams of seating options.

The Mobility Resource has provided a comprehensive list of rebate programs offered by vehicle manufacturers.

Is an accessible vehicle necessary for transportation to work or school?  Every state has a program for vocational training and accommodations for individuals with disabilities.  Although these programs cannot pay for the vehicle itself, they can pay for all modifications and driver training if these are written as goals for vocational planning.

State Vocational and Rehabilitation Agencies

Happy and safe traveling!