The Different Types of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

the different types of wheelchair accessible vehicles

We will always ask you a fundamental question: Where would the wheelchair user like to be in your WAV? Of course, you don’t need to know where the wheelchair user will be sitting in your WAV at the beginning of your journey; some will know precisely where they would like to be, and others will have no idea.

We always help guide our customers, advising on the suitability of all models and conversions available across the WAV industry. Whether you are seeking a new or used WAV or a WAV on The Motability Scheme, you can rest assured we at Southern Mobility Vehicles will find you the most suitable WAV for your needs.

There are some key points about available vehicle conversions available, which may help to understand their practicality. For instance, a side entry WAV could be impractical for ownership due to restricted space, or a wheelchair may not suit this entry style. Our advice is to keep an open mind, as compromise will likely have to play a part in your decision-making process.

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There are many different vehicle models with a mind-boggling range of conversion variants such as entry method, entry point, interior heights, widths, and gradients. Our advice is never to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle without spending enough time with a specialist who truly understands WAVs.

The dynamics of you, and your wheelchair, along with the recommended WAV, is where the detail truly matters, and this needs close observation to ensure that the vehicle and the wheelchair user are the best matches for each other.

If you are acquiring a WAV in any other way, you could be compromising without realising it, and it is buyer beware unless you are swapping vehicles on a like-for-like basis. Even then, it would be best if you made sure the converter has made no changes that could affect its suitability for you.

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If you have ever been fitted for a wheelchair, you will have spent considerable time with a specialist. An occupational therapist may well have been present along with a specialist from the company that designed and built the wheelchair recommended for your needs. Measurements, angles, observation, mobility and ability would all have been considered critical factors. Then, quite possibly, fine-tuning and adjustments would have taken place to ensure your safety and comfort.

The same due diligence should happen when someone is matching you, your wheelchair, along with your needs and wants with any wheelchair accessible vehicle. If this is not the case, seek the expertise willing to spend the time establishing your needs and understanding what will work best for you and please take advice. If none is being offered, please find it somewhere else.

The wrong WAV for your needs is an expensive compromise you do not want to discover after you have parted with your hard-earned money. Where a wheelchair user wishes to be in a WAV is very important, but it shouldn’t stop there. Fine-tuning through observation is vital, and details of how the WAV in question fits around you are critical.

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Drive from wheelchair WAV

Many people don’t realise that a wheelchair user can drive a vehicle from their wheelchair. Individual ability, of course, will play a significant part in whether this is a real possibility, but at least it is a possibility.

Every drive from wheelchair WAV has a fully automated and remote entry system allowing a wheelchair user to be in front of the steering wheel in no time, ready to drive.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Specialists

A wheelchair user driver can enter a WAV via a lift or ramp depending on the vehicle’s make and model, what can be fitted to a vehicle, and where during conversion build. Rear and side lifts, as well as rear and side ramps, are all available. Wheelchair user lifts can be fitted either internally or externally under the vehicle floor, depending on what is possible to fit to a vehicle.

With the press of a button, your vehicle will automatically open, raising the tailgate and lowering the ramp or deploying the lift. Often lowering suspension will have been fitted to a WAV with a ramp to decrease the ramp gradient, making it safer and more accessible for a wheelchair user to enter and exit the vehicle.

You will need a docking station and wheelchair bracket and pin fitted, too; these are necessary to secure your wheelchair to the vehicle as if sitting in a seat. A docking station and bracket secure a wheelchair user in place; this is done hands-free and ensures you are safe and secure during travel. A quick-release button is at hand to allow you to exit the WAV freely when you need to.

You may also need extra equipment to assist you in driving from your wheelchair, known as “stage two”, where any other driver aids can be assessed, recommended and fitted for your individual needs. These can range from push-pull hand controls, steering balls, left foot accelerators, pedal guards and other specialist equipment to make your driving experience safer and more pleasurable.

The principle of driving from your wheelchair is a simple enough concept, but good advice will ensure you consider the right WAV vehicle for your needs. The simplicity starts with the ease of entry, but this will likely lead to more complex requirements and some must-have necessities once you are in front of the steering wheel. Never buy a WAV to drive from your wheelchair without specialist help and advice.

In summary – wheelchair driver

  • Both side or rear lifts and ramps are available for safe entry and exit
  • Drive from WAVs have fully automated opening and closing sequence for independence
  • A wheelchair docking system, bracket and pin are required to secure a wheelchair user driver in a WAV
  • A driving assessment will ascertain if further driving aid needs will be required.

Please ensure you take advice from an expert who fully understands your needs.

Wheelchair User Driver (or passenger) transfer WAV

A wheelchair user can transfer to the driver or front passenger positions, and both will enter the WAV similarly.

A wheelchair user planning to transfer to the driver seat will enter a WAV in the same way a drive from wheelchair user could. The key difference is the wheelchair user would “dock” their wheelchair further back in the WAV, usually around the middle of the vehicle and then transfer themselves to a standard driver or passenger seat.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Specialists

A six-way transfer seat base facilitates this process; this is fitted to the vehicle floor under the driver or passenger seat, replacing the original seat base. A six-way transfer seat base allows the driver’s seat to travel significantly further and closer to the wheelchair user, enabling them to transfer to the driving position more easily.

A six-way transfer seat base can usually travel backwards by up to three feet, rotate by up to 140 degrees and rise by up to 180mm depending on the make and model of the six-way seat base. The movement and travel available for a six-way transfer seat base will depend on the vehicle make and model to which it is fitted.

A six-way transfer seat base can be fitted under a driver or the front passenger seat if the vehicle allows, allowing a wheelchair user to be seated in the driver or passenger position in standard vehicle seats. Using the manufacturer seats is often more comfortable, but importantly, it also maintains a wheelchair user’s independence.

For many making the most of any mobility they have is critical and driver and passenger transfer options are well worth considering, especially if you can leave and return to your wheelchair safely.

In summary – wheelchair user driver (or passenger) transfer

  • Both side or rear lifts and ramps are available for safe entry and exit.
  • Driver transfer WAVs have fully automated opening and closing sequence for independence.
  • A wheelchair docking system, bracket and pin are usually required to secure your wheelchair whilst empty.
  • A driving assessment will help ascertain if further driving or transfer aids are necessary or would help.

Please ensure you take advice from an expert who fully understands your needs.

Wheelchair User Passenger Upfront WAV

In this wheelchair accessible vehicle, the wheelchair user will be seated, in their wheelchair, in the front passenger position. For many, this is the premium place to be, but as always, care must be taken, so please ensure you receive expert advice on vehicle suitability and never buy a WAV untested.

Any wheelchair user seeking to be seated in their wheelchair in the passenger upfront position should feel naturally at home; this position does not suit every wheelchair user. Being a front-seated passenger in a non-WAV is quite a different experience from being in a wheelchair, despite how natural it may seem.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Specialists

For many wheelchair users travelling as wheelchair passengers, the upfront position is the premium way to travel. It can often maintain a lifestyle and so quality of life previously enjoyed in a practical way that wasn’t thought possible, especially for those new to being in a wheelchair.

Wheelchair passenger upfront WAVs often have fewer physical seats due to the need for the vehicle converter to ensure a wheelchair passenger can travel from the rear to the front and accommodate a wheelchair user’s travel to the forward position.

Not all wheelchair passenger upfront WAVs are rear entry; some are adapted to allow wheelchair user access through a side door if the vehicle accommodates this method of entry.

In summary – wheelchair user passenger upfront

  • Both side or rear lifts and ramps are available for safe entry and exit
  • The wheelchair passenger upfront position is considered to be the premium wheelchair user position by many
  • If a wheelchair user is correctly accommodated, this position can feel the most natural in a vehicle
  • The numbers of WAVs that can accommodate this wheelchair user position are not great in number
  • Passenger upfront conversions are often costly to produce, and physical seat numbers can be lower than average
  • A wheelchair docking system, bracket and pin are helpful but not necessary to secure a wheelchair for travel.

Please ensure you take advice from an expert who fully understands your needs.

Mid wheelchair passenger WAV

The mid position for a wheelchair user is probably the most common in production numbers, next to rear position conversions for wheelchair users. By mid, we generally mean between the two second-row seats or somewhere near that line. This is not easy to achieve in a smaller WAV, but there are a few WAVs that can allow a wheelchair user to be “inclusive”.

The “Fully inclusive” wheelchair user position in a WAV means that they, to all intents and purposes, look as if they are seated along with their fellow passengers. A fully inclusive wheelchair user position would be the aim if it can be at all possible, but the enormity of variants of wheelchairs and wheelchair users means this is quite tricky to achieve.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Specialists

We strive for this at Southern Mobility, and this is all about knowing your WAVs. The hundreds of different conversions can amount to fully inclusive, meaning the middle of the vehicle chassis or, in some cases, behind the second row. It is not that easy to define, so the mid wheelchair position is an approximation until we have met a wheelchair user and know the make and model of their wheelchair.

The central or mid position is often the most comfortable as it is central and away from the axles. Remember, this is not always the case and does depend on the vehicle, how it is converted and many other factors, such as head height, wheelchair type and the needs of the wheelchair user.

In summary – mid wheelchair passenger

  • Both side or rear lifts and ramps are available for safe entry and exit
  • The mid position in a vehicle is often thought to be the best position for a wheelchair passenger, but not always.
  • “Inclusivity” must feel suitable for a wheelchair user, which can be achieved in other positions in a WAV.
  • A wheelchair docking system, bracket and pin are helpful but not necessary to secure a wheelchair for travel.

Please ensure you take advice from an expert who fully understands your needs.

Rear Wheelchair Passenger WAV

Loved or hated, this wheelchair user position has significant advantages in a WAV. It generally costs less to convert a vehicle and is quicker to build. More physical seats can be retained, most often, the original manufacturer seats, which is a major bonus for many.

Five seats plus a wheelchair is the standard call for this conversion class; it suits many but not all.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Specialists

Being “in the boot” is not preferred by all and doesn’t suit all. Those with high needs or sustained sociability don’t want this conversion style. They are, however, sought after by private hire and taxi firms as the standard seats are often required under local bylaws, and people paying to travel do want to sit in a comfortable seat, the original ones.

We tend to find that our younger wheelchair passengers, particularly teenagers, like the rear space as they can call it their own and personalise it too, making their own room on wheels and why not. Some wheelchair passengers don’t mind where they are in a WAV; just getting out is all that matters.

Often multiple short journeys can be made much easier with a rear wheelchair user position as it tends to be the quickest to secure a wheelchair user.

In summary – rear wheelchair passenger

  • Generally, rear ramps and lifts suit this wheelchair position in a WAV as a wheelchair user is located in the rear.
  • A wheelchair docking system, bracket and pin are helpful but not necessary to secure a wheelchair for travel.
  • A rear wheelchair user position WAV tends to be the quickest and easiest place to secure a wheelchair user.
  • Rear position WAVs will usually have more standard vehicle seats, ensuring more seated passengers in comfort.
  • Private hire, taxi companies and care homes often prefer this layout.
  • The relatively lower cost and speedier conversion mean more significant numbers are often converted.

Please ensure you take advice from an expert who fully understands your needs.

Wheelchair User “Switch” WAV

Certain vehicles allow for the perfect conversion for those seeking to drive from their wheelchair or be in the wheelchair passenger upfront position, depending on their preference on any given day. This arrangement allows flexibility for those who want a choice.

A switch WAV is where both the driver and front passenger seats are interchangeable, or both are present. A switch WAV will also mean that both front seats can be removed, allowing two wheelchair users to be present in the front of a vehicle which is a powerful call when discussing needs.

After all, our experience has taught us that those that know you can drive from your wheelchair know this. Correspondingly many have absolutely no idea it’s possible.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Specialists

A switch WAV means the ultimate in flexibility, usually easy access as the design has to accommodate those that cannot leave their wheelchairs to drive, so full automation is almost always present for ease of entry and exit. Most often, seat numbers are lacking in switch WAVs due to the nature of much of the vehicle being removed during conversion. Heavily converted WAVs are often quite costly and the time taken to build them is considerable too.

Those who seek a switch WAV are doing so most often as a necessity, not a luxury. As a business, we always seek switch converted WAVs due to their relatively rare nature and our desire to offer what are complex vehicles requiring a considerable amount of time for advice needed for most customers driving from their wheelchairs.

In summary – wheelchair user “switch”

  • Both side or rear lifts and ramps are available for safe entry and exit.
  • A wheelchair docking system, bracket and pin are required for a wheelchair driver to secure their wheelchair.
  • A wheelchair docking station and wheelchair bracket and pin are not required for an upfront wheelchair passenger.
  • A switch WAV is the ultimate necessity for many wheelchair user drivers as it allows them to swap front seats.

Please ensure you take advice from an expert who fully understands your needs.

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What is the best WAV for me?

In all honesty, I have no idea, and if anyone tells you they know before they have asked you at least half a dozen questions, you are barking up the wrong tree.

We cannot reiterate this enough; get good, sound advice from someone who knows what they are talking about and offers you independent advice.

At Southern Mobility Vehicles, we ask the right key questions first and our experience has taught us that if we don’t ask about Motability, it may just be the person didn’t think they were eligible. After all, if you go to a Ford dealer, will they suggest a Vauxhall? No, of course not, but we do.

Being independent means we ask the questions without having a WAV in our thoughts because your needs are the ones that count, not ours. Whilst WAVs have four wheels, the WAV industry is not car sales; accommodating a wheelchair user is never one size fits all.

If you are trying to find a WAV, please take advice and if none is offered, find someone who will spend the time with you, and it will make the whole process of buying something you really don’t want but need significantly less stressful.

Good advice should mean you gather all the information you need to make an informed decision; complex vehicles need structured help and guidance over time.

The wrong WAV will be a costly mistake, and the nagging doubt may well be just behind you bending your ear! The right one will be a wheelchair user’s freedom personified, and every journey you take will be a pleasure and open many possibilities you never thought possible.

Finding a suitable wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) is not as easy as many think. This acquisition may well be a compromise that started with knowing you have to say goodbye to a car you want to travel in for a vehicle you need.

Whether you need a new or a Nearly New WAV on the Motability Scheme, WAV rental, or a financed or outright purchase of a new or used WAV, we are here to help you with independent advice on your first or next WAV.

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