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ALS From Both Sides
Care of an ALS Patient
By Diane Huberty, Retired RN, Certified Neuro Nurse
...and ALS Patient

Choosing a Van

  1. Minivan or full size Van?
    1. Minivans:
      1. More appealing to those who don't want to drive a "truck".
      2. Will fit in all garages and parking ramps.
      3. Are lower to the ground making it possible to use a ramp for the wheelchair rather than a mechanical lift.
      4. Less interior space and less headroom makes it more difficult to use with a power chair, especially for a tall person. A power chair with rear wheel drive will not have the turning radius needed to get it into this size van. Most newer power chairs pivot closer to their center however, and should work.
      5. Must have floor lowered to accommodate wheelchair. Lowered floors can bottom out when driving on rough roads or into driveways.
    2. Full sized vans:
      1. More space for wheelchair and other gear.
      2. May not fit in some garages or parking ramps. Raised roof version will not fit.
      3. Must have floor lowered and/or roof raised to accommodate wheelchair and lift.
      4. Consider size of engine cowling between front seats. Can make it very difficult to move back to the passenger area if wheelchair passenger needs help.
    3. Other options:
      1. Dodge Sprinter: Available from manufacturer in two roof heights, 64 or 72 inches of headroom, no roof raising/floor lowering conversion expense, just add a lift. High door height for even the tallest wheelchair user. Three lengths available. Ideal for traveling. Excellent visibility for wheelchair passenger. Side or rear entry.
      2. Ford Transit Connect. A small size utility van that is becoming popular for wheelchair use. Rear entry only. Fold down ramp rather than lift. Two lengths available. Shorter length has seating for driver and one or two passengers. Longer length allows more passenger seating but puts the wheelchair in the 3rd row, and space may not be long enough for a power chair.
  2. Lower the floor or raise the roof?
    1. Sitting in a wheelchair puts the person sitting too high to see anything out the window beyond the edge of the road. Raising the roof doesn't add height to the windows. Lowering the floor is somewhat better but the wheelchair passengers view is still quite limited.
    2. In order for a caregiver to stand up in the van, a real help but not essential, both floor lowering and roof raising must be done.
    3. A lowered floor or raised roof are generally not available as factory options and must be done by a van conversion shop.
  3. Side or rear wheelchair entry?
    1. Rear entry
      1. Allows the wheelchair user to get in without maneuvering to turn the chair.
      2. Rear entry limits the seating available for other passengers.
      3. Rear entry eliminates the problem of being blocked from using the lift by other parked cars, but requires loading and unloading in traffic lane of a parking lot.
    2. Side entry
      1. Requires turning the chair to face the front. Riding sideways is unsafe as well as nauseating.
      2. Requires about 8 feet of space, and another car parking too close can require moving the van to get back in. That is a mere nuisance if you are a wheelchair passenger, but if you are still driving yourself it leaves you stranded.
  4. Folding or slide out lift?
    1. Folding
      1. Takes up some space in passenger area and partially covers the window.
      2. May prevent front passenger seat from being able to move back (reducing leg room) or reclining.
      3. Can be operated manually if controller fails.
    2. Slide Out
      1. Doesn't take up passenger space or block the window but does take 1.5 inches away from the headroom, a small but critical amount.
      2. Harder to deploy manually if something happens to the controller.
      3. May require modifying exhaust system, gas tank.
      4. Enclosed but somewhat more exposed to water, snow, salt.
  5. Automatic Lift?
    1. Manual is least expensive, requires a caregiver to operate.
    2. Semiautomatic raises/lowers the lift with a switch located on the lift, requires a caregiver to open the door.
    3. Fully Automatic opens door, raises/lowers the lift, and closes the door with switches located on the lift. Can be used independently if hand/arm strength allows.
    4. Remote control can be used instead of switches. Requires full attention and caution to be used safely.

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