Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Almost a decade Earlier, my middle son was born with multiple disabilities. I obviously had a lot of concerns at the time, but one of my biggest concerns was how we would handle accessibility challenges as he got older.

For the first few years, my son rode well in a car seat and a stroller. But when she was 3 years old it became clear how important it was for us to order her first wheelchair. She has cerebral palsy, and pediatric wheelchairs come with custom options to contour and align her body to grow well.

Initially, I tried to lift his chair in the back of my SUV. It lasted about a week before my back pain started, so I had to look at other options. I couldn’t go to the mainstream car dealership: they don’t offer accessible van packages and are mostly unfamiliar with accessible options or features. Instead, I had to go to a special mobility dealer. I met Nicole Bryson, its owner FTMability, A vehicle customization shop in Saddlebrook, New Jersey, specializing in van replacement for disabled passengers and drivers.

Mobility stores replace minivans and some SUVs, allowing a passenger to travel in a wheelchair by placing a ramp next to or behind the van. Rear-entry vans can be replaced with long-cut ramps or short-cut ramps. A long-cut ramp allows the wheelchair to be pushed between the two captain’s chairs in the second row, and a short-cut wheelchair is placed behind the chairs. I knew I wanted a rear-entry long-cut ramp. My three children are near age, and this is the only way they will be able to sit next to each other – something I have chosen for my middle son’s social and emotional development. I also want my son to be near the driver or the front row passenger if he needs help when we are on the road.

In addition, parking a side-entry van can be challenging. Most parking lots have only a few designated side-entry spots (which have blue lines that allow ample space for ramps). If those spots are taken, I have to go around until one is opened. (And I can’t leave my little boy and Then Park the car.)

After researching all our options, I bought a Toyota Siena minivan that has changed Brownability With a rear-entry ramp. I chose an automatic ramp, so when I press the trunk button on the key fob, the elevator gate opens and the ramp descends automatically — a feature I like when I have to navigate a busy parking lot with three children.

For an additional fee, I installed FTMobility EZ lock system. This handy add-on lets me click my son’s wheelchair into the van, as opposed to tethering it in four different places every time I take him in and out.

I have been driving this modified van for over four years now. I love the freedom it gives our family. In addition to the convenience of carrying three children in the van, the amount of space behind the wheelchair is convenient. When there are only five of us, I can use that space for storage. I took a wagon to the van after a trip to the grocery store. (This is especially helpful after running Costco.) Or we load the van with a beach cart that is all set up and ready to go – no need to reconnect once we arrive. We can also transport small furniture or bicycles for two to three children. When we need space for more passengers, we have a jumper seat in the back that folds to accommodate two more people.

Money and maintenance problems

As much as the van has made our lives easier, it also has some drawbacks. Replacing a van costs $ 10,000 to $ 30,000, and that’s above the actual price of the car. We’re lucky to have a state program with funding sources available to help us, but it’s not an easy road, and those resources are not available to everyone.

Dynamic companies, such as BraunAbility, have already changed vans made for retail. They move parts like exhaust, gas tank and air conditioning around to install the ramp. The second-row captain’s chairs that came with our original van were removed and replaced with smaller seats to make room for wheelchairs.

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