Accessible Cars Aren’t Born, They’re Made

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almost a decade Previously, my middle son was born with multiple disabilities. Obviously I had many concerns at the time, but my biggest one was how we would manage accessibility challenges as he grew up.

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For the first few years, my son did well in moving around in a car seat and a stroller. But by the time he was 3 it became clear how important it was for us to order his first wheelchair. He has cerebral palsy, and pediatric wheelchairs come with custom options to contour and align his body to be well developed.

Initially, I tried to lift his chair in the back of my SUV. It lasted about a week before my back hurt, so I had to look at other options. I couldn’t go to a mainstream car dealership: They don’t offer accessible van packages, and most aren’t familiar with accessible options or features, in any way. Instead, I had to go to a specialized mobility dealer. I met Nicole Bryson, owner of ftmobility, a vehicle customization shop in Saddle Brook, New Jersey that specializes in modifying vans for disabled passengers and drivers.

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Mobility shops modify minivans and some SUVs so that passengers can travel in their wheelchairs by installing a ramp on the side or rear of the van. The rear-entry van can be modified with either a long-cut ramp or a short-cut ramp. A long cut ramp allows the wheelchair to be pushed between the two captain’s chairs in the second row, and a short cut places the wheelchair behind the chairs. I knew I needed a rear-entry long-cut ramp. My three children are close in age, and this was the only way they would be able to sit next to each other—something I preferred for my middle son’s social and emotional development. I also wanted my son to be closer to the driver or front row passenger in case he needs assistance when we’re on the road.

Additionally, parking a side-entry van can be challenging. Most parking lots only have a few designated side-entry spots (the ones with blue lines that leave enough room for a ramp). If those spots are taken, I have to go round until one pops open. (And I can’t leave my little son and Then Park the car.)

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After researching all of our options, I bought a Toyota Sienna minivan that was modified visual acuity With rear-entry ramp. I opted for an automatic ramp, so when I press the trunk button on the key fob, the lift gate opens and the ramp automatically lowers—a feature I love when I’m in a busy parking lot with three kids. Navigating the site.

For an additional fee, I had FTMobility installed Easy Lock System, This convenient add-on allows me to click my son’s wheelchair into the van, while tying it in four different places each time I take him in and out.

I have been driving this modified van for over four years. I love the freedom it gives to our family. In addition to the ease of getting three kids in the van, the space in the back of the wheelchair is convenient. When we’re only five, I can use that space for storage. I roll a wagon in the van after a trip to the grocery store. (This is especially helpful after driving to Costco.) Or we load the van with a beach cart that’s fully outfitted and ready to go—once we arrive any time soon. Reassembly is not required. We can also carry small furniture or two to three children’s cycles. When we need space for more passengers, we have a jumper seat at the back that folds down to accommodate two more people.

Money and maintenance issues

As easy as vans have made our lives, there are some drawbacks as well. The cost of modifying a van is $10,000 to $30,000, and this is on top of the original price of the vehicle. We were lucky to find a state program with available funding sources to help, but it’s not an easy path, and those sources aren’t available to everyone.

Mobility companies like Braunability modify vans already built for retail. They move parts like exhaust, gas tanks and air conditioning around to install ramps. The second row captain’s chairs that came with our original van were removed and replaced with smaller seats to make room for a wheelchair.

As a result, we need some extra maintenance that we would not have faced if our vans had not been modified after assembly. For example, several parts of the exhaust have been replaced, and the sensors in the rear of the van have failed because the wiring has been moved. Issues like this are not simple solutions.

Some Toyota Dealers Will Service Parts Because of our van and other modifications it is not at all comfortable to touch.

Bryson says, “This is a common problem we face with most car manufacturers. We have had to build relationships with the local dealers of each carmaker like Toyota, Honda and Chrysler to get the support we need. Service the vehicles. When a customer visits a dealer outside our network, service managers are reluctant to work on their vehicle because of modifications. If it’s a non-mobility concern, their problem is received. Shouldn’t be a problem to get it repaired at an OEM dealership.”

we could Visit FTMobility for most of our repair needs. It has great service and even offers a loaner van. But it is about an hour drive from our house. Beyond the lack of convenience, removing and reinstalling car seats and other gear is time and energy consuming. That’s why we go to our local Toyota dealer as often as possible for routine maintenance, and we visit FTMobility at least twice a year for routine maintenance on the ramp.

We have also had to contact Braunability several times directly for support. It has excellent customer service, but manages communications with a third resource, while my husband and I are raising a young family and juggling multiple doctor and medical appointments for our son.

Another downside is that the van is physically low to the ground. We have to pay attention to the grade of any hills going down or the angle of the parking lot entrance and exit ramps. If the slope of the road is too steep, the rear of the van can scrape off the side of the road and be damaged—a difficult nuance for a family that loves to travel and explore and a vehicle to get there. resting on. So while access may be available to us, it is by no means available to everyone, especially to all who may need it.

Where are the automakers?

I’ll have to buy a new van in the next few years and don’t think I have many options. According to Bryson, the ability to modify the vehicle is left to the company making the modification—in our case, Braunability. Chrysler, Dodge, Honda, Chevrolet and Toyota have all modified Options, that sounds like a lot, but most of these vehicles are side-entry only, and they all come with the same maintenance and support issues as our rear-entry models. with general market offering More than 400 vehicle models For all else, our options for wheelchair-accessible vehicles are very limited.

I spoke to a few automakers to better understand their involvement with the modification process and to talk about any plans they may have to ease access in the future.

Leonard Brown, Fleet Market Requirements Manager and Driveability Program Manager at Stelantis (Chrysler’s parent company), explained that when originally launching Chrysler Pacifica, the company created a measuring tool to give modification companies the opportunity to walk through every part. Session day established. Van. Chrysler then provided several empty vehicles (with nothing installed) so that up-fitters could measure and engineer the requirements for modification.

Stelantis offers a tool-removal option in many vehicles where the car comes from an assembly plant without seats, and the mobility company can install what the customer needs. This approach keeps excess material out of the salvage yard and can potentially cut costs for the buyer.

Amy Baker, a senior manager of fleet marketing at Stelantis, explained that “if there is a transfer seat that needs to be fitted within a particular vehicle, [Stallantis] Those are the specs ahead of time, so when they design a vehicle, they know what those door entry points need to be so that the transfer seat can function within that vehicle.

“There’s a lot of equipment that someone might need, whether it’s foot pedals, driving controls or shifting seats. The website has compatibility charts showing which of their vehicles can be outfitted with that type of equipment. What a person might need. Most of their vehicles can be customized in some form or the other.”

They also offer reimbursement of up to $1,000 for any mobility equipment installed on their vehicle. Brown and Baker directed me FCA Driveability Program, which is a good first stop for those looking for a modified Stellantis vehicle.

Baker said, “Not everyone wants a minivan, so they try to educate their driver rehabilitation specialists by providing them with information about what modifications can be made on each vehicle.

General Motors Accessibility Strategy Manager Alan Hejl said the company has also discussed upcoming models with mobility companies and provides schematics and blueprints of their vehicles to accessibility modification companies.

General Motors works with several mobility companies, such as ATC Innovative Mobility And Freedom Motors, as well as braunability, which is now market leader in industry. Each company has its own way of fitting cars for accessibility, which means that a Chevy Traverse modified by Freedom Motors may have different engineering (and different service requirements) than those modified by Braunability.

Like Stelantis, GM’s mission is to foster better relationships to allow the automaker to learn what it can do to get the vehicles ready for modification with as little waste as possible.

“In short, it’s a work in progress,” said Hazel…

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