Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wheelchair Vans - where do we start?

When our child needs a wheelchair to get around we turn to insurance companies to help cover the expense. Therapist are there to walk you through the process, suggest what is best for their needs, and even fill out all the paperwork. But what happens after they get a power chair, and you cannot fold it into the back of your car? Many families are faced with a tough path ahead to remove the barrier of being stuck at home, with the only solution being a ride service that isn't always reliable or available, or purchasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

The most common wheelchair vehicles are mini-vans. They provide many options to customize to your specific needs. There are two main options for a ramp...side load and rear load, and you can have manual or automatic ramps, manual being less expensive. Our family started with a side load and now have a rear load. Some people love side loads, we really love the rear load option. It gives us the ability to park in a regular spot when double spots aren't available (we just can't parallel park) and it really works better for our daughter's power chair. Picking out a van for your needs is a science in itself and I suggest talking to other families about their vehicle and the type of wheelchair they use with it before buying a van. There are so many factors that we didn't consider because we hadn't ever used an accessible van before, ie. turning radius of power wheelchair, parking and unloading at the house,  other passengers, space for other equipment,  do you have a road with speed bumps (the side loads scrape so bad) or a hard driveway to enter, etc. There are a few places that rent accessible vans, and this can be a great way to try one out and see what you like.

And now we are at the big question..."How do we get a wheelchair accessible van?"

There are several options:

First, you can convert a van your already own, or purchase a used van to convert. However, not just any van can be converted. It cannot be over 5 years old, and cannot have more than 50,000 miles on it. The base level conversion, with a manual ramp, starts at $15,000 (not including the cost of the van.) If your child is on the Virginia ID or the DD waiver you can get up to $5000/year towards home or vehicle modifications. This won't buy you a van, but could help with the conversion cost.

The second option is to purchase a new wheelchair van which will cost close to $60,000.
The third option, which is what we began with, was to buy a used van that was already converted. Our daughter had a power wheelchair that was sitting for months at therapy because we didn't have a ramp on our house or a van to get it home. There are hundreds of used vans for sale with low miles, you just have to be willing to look and maybe drive a little to get one. Many accessible vans are purchased by the elderly and are used for doctor appointments only. There are lots of vans in Florida for sale. A decent used accessible van usually starts around $8,000- $10,000.

In order to save enough money for this we put all we could away each month, which sometimes was nothing, and we did many fundraisers. We had a friend host a motorcycle poker run which brought in a good amount of money, and some family memebers kicked in as well. We had sold an older vehicle and anything else we could. We also sold t-shirts and regularly visited local car lots to talk to the managers about helping with a discount for our family. You may want to tap into your local church or your child's school about fundraising ideas as well.

There are a few low interest loans available that have a 10 year payment plan. One source is the NewWell Fund which you can borrow up to $30,000 (for new or used vans.) ATLFA is another loan source for Virginia residents only and it has lower rates and longer terms.  Braun, a major conversion company, has lists of Nationwide and State Funding sources. You can apply to as many grants as you qualify for.  and

It took our family many years to tap into enough funding sources to access a used van. We are currently on our second van, which we purchased used and had converted through Freedom Motors. We used the money from the sale of our first to help with the cost, as well as a loan. It was a lot of work but so worth it in the long run. It has give both our daughter and our entire family the freedom we needed.