In the twenty five years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed, countless improvements have been made for individuals who live with a disability. Access to programs, businesses, travel, and employment opportunities became a guaranteed civil right for all.

Living with a physical disability can be challenging if you don’t have the support and appropriate equipment to help you live independently.

Over 18 million people in the U.S. and Canada have mobility issues, but with the assistance of communities and non-profit organizations like the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), medical and technological advances are allowing people with physical disabilities to lead more adventuresome lives.

Whether you are living with a disability or have dedicated your time to helping someone who is, being independent means being able to get around your community, work, or school and just about anywhere you want to go. Adaptive equipment can help you achieve that independence.

Determining Your Mobility Equipment Needs

The range of options for a mobility vehicle is as diverse and unique as each individual. Virtually anyone with a disability can find an option that fits their personal needs.

“Mobility isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario,” says Megan Wegner, Brand Manager of BraunAbility, a world leader in mobility for over 40 years. “It’s important to seek the help of an expert who is trained to find the best fit for your individual needs.”

To properly asses your needs, the first step is to visit with a Certified Mobility Consultant (CMC). Wegner says a CMC can prescribe the best options for a wheelchair user, taking into account an individual’s size, size of wheelchair, levels of independence, passengers and their needs and parking considerations. While an occupational therapist or rehabilitation specialist can evaluate your needs, a CMC is specifically trained to perform a needs analysis to determine your exact customization.

Shopping For Adapted Vehicles

Once a relationship with a Certified Mobility Consultant is made, it’s time to shop for an adapted vehicle. Finding the right dealership and working closely with them is key. Qualified local dealers can be found through the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association website.

“While you may have a preference for a make or type of vehicle, it’s important to be open to options that you may not have considered,” says Wegner.

Some options in adaptive vehicles to consider:

  • Minivan vs. SUV
  • Rear-entry vs. side-entry
  • Infloor ramp vs. foldout ramp

“Though consideration for what is easiest for the driver is important, it’s also important to consider those you travel with,” Wegner adds.

Many times a minivan or van is most appropriate for an individual with disabilities as it affords room for a lift, room to roll to a transfer seat, and room to store the wheelchair during driving without having to break it down. Visibility and space make them the most popular choice. However, SUV’s are also adaptable, as BruanAbility has adapted a Ford Explorer for the person who has a preference for a sportier look and option.

It’s important to note that as a person with a disability grows older, it’s often more difficult for them to transfer up and down in a vehicle without a lift due to wear and tear on their shoulders and rotator cuffs. Consideration should be made for this when choosing a vehicle to modify, as cost is a factor and looking at the long range would be in the driver’s best interest.

Wegner says that while it’s possible to convert your existing vehicle, there are certain mileage and vehicle age requirements that must be met. Your CMC and dealer can advise you whether your vehicle is a good candidate for conversion.

Cost Considerations

According to the National Highway Safety Association (NHTSA), mobility vehicles and modification packages are costly — ranging from $20,000-$80,000. Whether adapting an existing vehicle or purchasing an already modified mobility vehicle, drivers should seek out multiple options to find any programs that might assist with this purchase. Each state has its own Department of Vocational Rehabilitation that offers many suggestions for aid in financing a mobility vehicle to get their physically limited citizens mobile.

The NHTSA provides additional financing options:

  • Many nonprofit associations that advocate for individuals with disabilities have grant programs that pay for adaptive devices.
  • Some private health insurance or workers’ compensation may help cover adaptive devices and vehicle modification. Check with your insurance carrier.
  • Veterans Administration Agencies across the U.S. might be able to provide funding assistance to help you finance a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Contact your VA agency in your state for more information.
  • Some states waive the sales tax for adaptive devices if you have a doctor’s prescription for their use.
  • Many manufacturers have rebate and reimbursement plans for modified vehicles.

Never before have there been more choices and options for those with disabilities to explore the world with freedom and independence behind the wheel. With technology ever evolving and new inventions around every corner, the future of mobility vehicles is an open one.