The conversion vehicle business is not easy, as extensive testing needs to be done before the products can arrive in showrooms. The business also serves a market with an income level that is often lower than the rest of the public, so helping to arrange financing can take much ingenuity. Despite these obstacles, improvements and new vehicle options keep coming. As one example, Vantage Mobility International announced at the end of August that they were introducing the first Chrysler Pacifica van with a side entry. Several other newer vehicles were listed in a recent NEW MOBILITY issue
Besides offering new vehicles, there are also companies introducing new or upgraded accessories that allow most types of vehicles to be enjoyed by people with a variety of disabilities. Without such “peripherals” those vans, sedans and pickup trucks would not be able to safely transport people who use mobility devices. Items such as wheelchair tie-downs, hand controls, transfer seats, assistive technology and wheelchair lifts or ramps are the features that differentiate a conversion vehicle from an unmodified car or truck of the same make and model.
Due to the number of companies that manufacture and sell peripherals that make vehicles accessible, combined with the ongoing efforts to make products even better, the information that follows is likely missing a few new products. Readers who check out the resources list at the end of this article and follow up with an internet browser search should be able to find all products in a particular category in a reasonable amount of time.
This article does not endorse any one product over others of a similar nature. They have not been tested by this writer or other NM staff, and a product that is not listed may be equal or better in quality, but is simply left out of the listings for a variety of reasons. Some of the longtime, and perhaps best, products available for use in making transportation accessible may not be mentioned either; that is only because this article is intended to identify some of the newer offerings.
For the past several years, the fixed tie-down devices sold by EZ Lock and designed to hold mobility devices stationary in an accident have been the standard method for securing those who travel or drive independently while seated in their wheelchairs. They can be operated with the push of a button to release the device when desired, and can withstand the forces present in a vehicle rollover accident. While the EZ Lock is still in widespread use, some other interesting types of fixed securement devices have been introduced recently.
The use of the EZ-Lock requires the installation of a tie-down bolt on the bottom of a wheelchair in order to match up with the device. Those bolts sometimes interfere with the passage of wheelchairs over obstacles, even as low as some doorway thresholds, but B&D Independence has come up with a new approach to electronic securement that keeps the bottom of the wheelchair free of bolts or other protrusions.
The company points out that its HighTower securement system is the first that is side-mounted on a wheelchair, with a matching port mounted on the vehicle floor. Part of the device mounted on the wheelchair consists of a long rod that slides into a receptacle on the fixed docking device and locks securely in place. It can be released by the push of a button, or by an emergency release within reach of the operator.
B&D Independence also manufactures the Speedy Lock, a restraint system designed for power scooters. It is not recommended that anyone ride in a scooter while a vehicle is in motion, and this device assures that an unoccupied scooter will not become a dangerous projectile in the event of an accident.
Q’Straint has introduced the Quantum wheelchair securement system for transit systems worldwide. This product utilizes two movable arms to surround and cradle both sides of a rear-facing wheelchair in a bus or train, along with a solid backing that protects the passenger in the event of a collision. Unlike most earlier securement systems that utilize retractable tie-down straps and require the operator to hook them to the wheelchair, the Quantum system can secure the wheelchair without requiring the operator to leave her seat. When the destination is reached, a single touch of a button from either the driver’s seat or the wheelchair location will release the system so that the passenger can disembark.
AMF-Bruns manufactures and sells several products for securing wheelchairs and stabilizing passengers in the event of a collision. The FutureSafe is a height-adjustable head and backrest with a certified shoulder belt integrated. Mounted on the side or floor of a wheelchair van, it can swing into position behind a wheelchair once the wheelchair is in place. The company also manufactures the PROTEKTOR system, which consists of fortified retractors that fasten the wheelchair or its occupant’s seat belt to the floor of the vehicle for added security
The majority of people with disabilities who operate vehicles use hand controls. They are available in a variety of configurations, from fully electronic to simple rods extending to the accelerator and brake pedals. Guidosimplex USA has introduced a floor-mounted hand control similar to the levers that operate a motorboat. The GT2 combines an electronic accelerator with mechanical brake, and can be customized for the needs of the individual driver. The company also offers steering knobs, pin grips and secondary controllers to meet most accessibility needs. Its hand controls are used by several professional race drivers who can keep a grip on the steering wheel while operating some models of Guidosimplex hand controls.
Another electronic accelerator is offered by Kempf — the Darios — a digital accelerator ring installed on the inside perimeter of the steering wheel. This configuration is more touch sensitive than a traditional lever-operated accelerator, and it is an effective way for drivers with good hand function to drive any vehicle they want to with hand controls, without taking hands off the steering wheel.
For those who desire to operate their vehicle with full electronic capabilities, Paravan, a European company, has introduced the Paravan II. It can be set up to operate with a full array of input options, and can even be driven from the rear of the van by utilizing the wheelchair’s controller. It is available in several countries for use in everything from wheelchair vans to commercial trucks.
Some drivers who are disabled are unable to use the many controls needed to drive without some type of assistance — everything from turn signals to gearshifts. Thankfully there are products on the market that assure safe operation of the vehicle despite decreases in reach, strength or function as a result of a disabling condition.
Drivers who need extension controls and steering aids in order to drive safely have relied on Mobility Products & Design to meet their needs since the company was founded in 1976. The company has always offered a complete selection of products for both hand and foot-controlled operation of a vehicle. Today, as a division of Veigel Rehamotive, its products are available internationally as well as throughout North America.
Drivers who are able to transfer into a vehicle’s seat rather than remaining in their wheelchairs have a variety of options available to help with that transfer. One of the most basic is a simple transfer board from Veigel Rehamotive that is mounted on the side of the seat — either driver’s or passenger’s — and facilitates movement across the gap between the mobility device and the seat.
Some transfer seats are designed to swivel and slide backwards in order to allow someone to transfer from their mobility device directly onto the seat, and then swivel as it slides forward into the normal configuration for driving or travel as a passenger. Other designs are more complex, allowing the user to transfer onto the seat from ground level and then be lifted into a position for travel. The mobility device can then be stowed by another party or placed in the back of the vehicle by the person who is transferring.
Adapt Solutions, a Canadian company, has come up with a new transfer seat called the Link. This transfer seat allows a wheelchair user to make the transfer at ground level, then be lifted up and into the driver or passenger position while remaining seated.
Autoadapt accomplishes the wheelchair-to-vehicle transfer with its Turny series of transfer seats and bases. The company advertises solutions for most sizes of vehicles, depending upon the type of vehicle and the needs of the user.
Wheelchair Lifts or Ramps
BraunAbility has introduced a new lift, the BraunAbility Cassette Lift, as an international public-use wheelchair lift. It is currently available only through their sister company, Autoadapt, based in Sweden.
Euroramp, by AMF-Bruns, is an entry ramp option for rear loading wheelchair vans. The Euroramp extends out the back of the vehicle for loading the mobility device, then folds up for travel, either behind the passenger or on the side panel inside the van.
Harmar has introduced a unique stars-and-stripes pattern in all of their platform lifts in honor of the nation’s military veterans. The Harmar lifts mount on the rear of a vehicle and are designed to transport mobility devices like scooters that usually weigh less than 350 pounds.
Vantage Mobility International advertises that its Northstar Access360 in-floor ramp used in its new Chrysler Pacifica conversion van “is the easiest to use and most accessible mobility solution in the world.”
Once the desired brand or model of accessible peripheral is identified, it is important to take the next step. Local mobility equipment dealers are trained and licensed to match drivers or passengers with the proper equipment that allows them to drive or be transported safely in the vehicles of their choice. They also know whether something is compatible with the vehicle where it would be installed, or with a particular type or level of disability. Mobility equipment dealers are also available for purchase, installation and servicing of these products.
• AMF Bruns America, www.amfbrunsamerica.com/
• AutoAdapt, www.autoadapt.com/
• B&D Independence, bdindependence.com/products/
• BraunAbility, www.braunability.com/
• Bruno, www.bruno.com/about/
• Carospeed Menox, www.autoadapt.com/en/products/hand-controls/carospeed-menox/
• EZ Lock, www.ezlock.net/index.php
• GuidoSimplexUSA, www.guidosimplexusa.com/
• Harmar, www.harmar.com
• Kempf, www.kempf-usa.com
• Mobility Products & Design, www.veigel-na.com/main-veigel-north-america/rehamotiver/products.html
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, www.nmeda.com
• Paravan, vancitymobility.com/paravan-space-drive.html
• Q’Straint, www.qstraint.com/en_na/
• Sure Grip, www.suregrip-hvl.com/
• Vantage Mobility International, www.vantagemobility.com/wheelchair-vans/
• Viegel North America, www.veigel-na.com/main-veigel-north-america/front-page/products.html