The ins and outs of obtaining and using a wheelchair-accessible van

For many families, the benefits may outweigh the costs

Ezekiel Lim avatar

by Ezekiel Lim |

Share this article:

Share article via email
An illustration depicting a man skateboarding in Philadelphia for the banner image of Ezekiel Kim's column

Holiday travel reminds my family just how important a wheelchair-accessible van is for transporting my mother-in-law, who has familial amyloid polyneuropathy.

It can be difficult for neuropathy patients and their caregivers to be home all the time, and traveling may be necessary to keep the holiday spirit alive. Families might consider obtaining a modified vehicle to transport their loved one.

Although van modifications for people with disabilities can be expensive, they increase mobility and the ability to visit loved ones, which may raise patients’ spirits.

What to know about wheelchair modification costs for vans

Some of the best-ranked vehicles that come with wheelchair modifications include the Honda Odyssey minivan, Toyota Sienna, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Dodge Grand Caravan. As you can imagine, the price of these is usually in the tens of thousands of dollars.

According to the mobility product company United Access, the basic cost to convert a van to be wheelchair-accessible may range from $20,000 to $45,000, with specialized equipment reaching as high as $150,000, which proves cost-prohibitive for many families. Because of steep costs like these, it’s worth looking into nonprofits and grants that could help out.

Families could also cut costs by purchasing a used van or pre-owned wheelchair modifications. Adventurous families may even consider adding wheelchair modifications to camper vans.

Recommended Reading
main graphic for the column

Why Intentionality Matters When Spending Time With an Ill Loved One

My father- and mother-in-law have an old Ford Econoline van they bought for a good price from an acquaintance. After they purchased it, they added a modification for a wheelchair. They received another van after my mother-in-law’s father passed away, and are in the process of adding a wheelchair modification to it. Both vans are side-entry, so the modification is to the side doors, where an elevating lift for a wheelchair is located.

Some vans also have rear-entry doors, which can support wheelchair ramps.

This type of vehicle allows my mother-in-law to visit friends and relatives, fishing lakes, and state parks.

Travel considerations neuropathy caregivers and patients must address

There are a few things that new caregivers and families of newly diagnosed neuropathy patients must know about traveling with a vehicle that has wheelchair modifications.

Firstly, traveling from point A to point B won’t be as seamless when a wheelchair is involved. I’ve had to allot close to 30 extra minutes each way to ensure that my mother-in-law successfully and safely makes it into the vehicle in her wheelchair.

This time frame was even longer when we attached her wheelchair to the back of a Ford Taurus she previously had, while she sat in front. In that case, we needed additional time to make sure she made it into the car safely. We’d sometimes have to pause during the transition to the car seat when painful neuropathy symptoms required her to take things slowly. This setup was less than ideal, as it tended to cause my mother-in-law a great deal of pain. We also had to ensure the wheelchair was securely fastened to the attachment on the back of the vehicle with no room for error.

Secondly, caregivers must consider routes that may be more friendly to patients, considering the peripheral neuropathy pain they experience. We avoid routes with potholes and bumpy roads that may trigger irritation of limbs and joints. Whenever possible, caregivers should consider a smoother route, even if it’s not the most direct. Your passenger’s comfort and safety are more important than your convenience.

Thirdly, traveling in a van while sitting in a wheelchair rather than directly on the vehicle’s seat may not be comfortable for the patient, so even using a wheelchair-accessible van might not be a perfect experience.

But if it’s financially feasible, the benefits of having a vehicle modified to accommodate a wheelchair may outweigh the costs. Wheelchair modifications for vans and SUVs can be expensive, especially when Medicare won’t cover wheelchair lift costs. However, these vehicles may be instrumental in providing neuropathy patients opportunities to see loved ones and experience a much-needed change of scenery.

Note: FAP News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of FAP News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to familial amyloid polyneuropathy.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.