Attempting to find reliable and accessible transportation is one of the biggest hurdles wheelchair users face. Even able-bodied people are familiar with the difficulties that having a car in the shop can cause. You can't get to work or the grocery store, and you have to rely on friends and family to give you rides to keep your life running smoothly. Now imagine that you don't fit into any vehicles that belong to your friends and family so none of them can give you a ride, then imagine calling a ride-sharing service or a cab and them saying they don't have anything available for you. If you do find a ride, imagine having to deal with often missing appointments because your ride arrives hours later than the scheduled time. This is often the reality for wheelchair users when it comes to finding transportation. Having a vehicle that can be driven by the wheelchair user or their caregiver is a game-changer. The ability to get where you want, when you want, is a luxury for many people who live with a disability.
There are many different types of vehicles on the market. Accessible vehicles can be completely customized to fit your specific needs, but those modifications can get expensive. I drive a regular car or SUV, and have the hand controls added. I can use my upper body to transfer myself and my wheelchair in and out of my car. This is common among manual wheelchair users. Wheelchair users with upper body weakness often get some type of modified van or SUV for transportation. A van with a lift or ramp is necessary for people who use power wheelchairs. Some people like to transfer out of their wheelchair into a seat to drive, while others drive their power wheelchair into the driver position and lock the wheelchair down for driving.
There are many categories of vans, but one big distinction when you are looking for a van is if it is a side loading or rear loading. There are pros and cons to each, but the most popular type is side loading. Side entry vans offer the widest array of seating arrangements. They are also the only vans that allow wheelchair users to get into the driver position or in the front passenger seat. If you want to drive then a side loading van is the best thing for you. People with large families will enjoy the side loading van for the extra seating. Think about where you will be parking because getting out on the side is often easier and safer. If you live in a city where you need to parallel park the sideloading option is the way to go.
The rear entry vans are the easiest type to modify, and therefore the cheapest option. One benefit of a rear-loading vehicle is that the ramp is wider than a side entry and the door opening height is higher than a lot of side entry vehicles (not all) which is important for larger wheelchairs. Don't forget, if the wheelchair user wants to drive, this is not a good option. I have been a taxi cab passenger in several rear entry vans and I don’t like how far away I am from the driver. It makes communication with the driver very difficult. I find that it is also very noisy in the back, which I don't like. I feel like a piece of luggage when I ride in a rear loading van, but for some individuals, this is the perfect option and they actually prefer a rear entry over a side. People always ask me which type of accessible vehicle is better - and I tell them neither - the best option is always the one that is right for you, your needs, your desires and your budget.
Interview with Dallas Crum from AMG Vans
KR: How did you get involved in the accessible van business?
In 1998 my dad started AMS Vans
when I was 10 years old. He had just decided to leave his job in management with UPS and open his own used car lot. In that process, he met a family who needed an accessible vehicle and they had no idea where to find one. My dad didn’t either but decided he wanted to help the family find a vehicle to meet their needs and through that process he found how limited and expensive the options were. After that experience he recognized a need for more affordable wheelchair accessible vehicles as well as expanding the options for finding them. 10 years later, I graduated high school and went straight to the family business which has now become the largest direct manufacturer and retailer of accessible vehicles in the nation.
KR: What is your favorite part about what you do?
The people. Our customers, the community, I know that sounds like a cliché and scripted answer but whatever its true. My family is part of this community. My daughter Riley has a diagnosis of T9M (Trisomy 9 Mosaicism) and is one of an estimated 200 people in the world with it. I love relationships. In my current role I get to interact with our community, build relationships, hear people’s stories, and be a resource for them.
KR: What do you think is the most important factor for a person to consider when purchasing an accessible van?
Educate yourself to all options available. I always ask people what their desires are, what their needs are, and then what their budget is. There is a product out there for almost every need and almost every price point. I think people get caught up in how expensive these vehicles/modifications are, and don’t get me wrong they are expensive but they don’t always have to be that $60,000 or $70,000+ vehicle. There are options out there and a lot of them. It’s easy to get stuck on whatever might be right in front of you and think those options are the only ones you have but I would encourage you to do your research and check all options. You would do that with any other purchase, why not do it when shopping for an accessible vehicle?
KR: What is your favorite customer success story?
Oh my goodness…where do I even start? So many stories. I have been doing this 14 years full time now (yes… I’m 32). Customer success story? I can’t pick a favorite. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all the experiences, stories, interactions, and personal relationships I have made over the years in this community. The hope, the desire to keep on going, to live, the passion, the strength I have witnessed, has left an ever lasting impact on me.
How to Narrow your search and find a Vendor
VMI has a quiz
that is very helpful and easy to use. Answer the question about your disability and lifestyle, next VMI will show you that vans that will best fit your specific needs. You can also choose to purchase a van completely online these days. Several mainstream car vendors like Carvana, Vroom, and TrueCar now offer vehicles that can be purchased completely online and then delivered to your home. AMS Vans now offer the same online solutions for people who need accessible vehicles. Numotion has partnered with Vantage Mobility International (VMI) and its subsidiary AMS Vans to help people with disabilities learn about the full range of accessible vehicles on the market today. If you would like more information click here
and someone will be in touch to find a vehicle that fits your needs. Finding the right accessible van can be life changing. The freedom to get anywhere on your own schedule feels wonderful. Good luck on your search for an accessible vehicle and enjoy the open road.