Vehicle Modifications

By Maryann B. Hunsberger

Photo of a lift used to put a scooter in the back of a van
Pictured is the author’s lift used to put her scooter in the back of her van, enabling her to ride while sitting in a passenger seat rather than her scooter.

Several types of vehicle modifications are available to enable wheelchair users to ride or drive in a van, SUV, or truck. Individuals should consult experts to learn about their options before investing in new equipment and/or a new vehicle.

As the author of the cover story, readers may have noted that I am personally familiar with mobility and accessibility issues – and necessary modifications not only apply to one’s home, but to one’s vehicle as well. I needed a way to lift my scooter into my SUV, so I attended the Abilities Expo in my state and sought information. I learned that a ramp-equipped van wasn’t right for me. I wanted to sit in the car’s seat, not in my scooter, while I rode in my car. I learned that lifts are available specifically for SUVs. I paid a vehicle modification company to come out and measure my SUV to determine which lift would work for me. I bought a particular lift and paid the vehicle modification company to install it.

The lift reaches down to my scooter, hooks on, and pulls it right into my SUV. I had to be firm with the dealer about what I wanted, as they tried to sell me an expensive ramp-equipped van. It’s important for people to research and know what they want before approaching a vehicle modification company.

Occupational therapist (OT), Kathleen Zackowski, PhD, OTR, explains that OTs can recommend vehicle modifications. “These modifications are amazing now. They don’t cost an arm and a leg because they can be added to an existing car. A person can change from a foot pedal to hand controls. They can add different types of steps to get into a vehicle. They can add a ramp. An OT can recommend equipment that can lift a wheelchair into the trunk of their car. And an OT can explain how to get back to the front seat and be independent.”

Car transfer aids also make using a car easier. Swivel seats, swivel seat cushions, auto grab bars, transfer boards, and more are available for purchase. For instance, valet seats are installed in place of regular front seats. They swivel around and lower the person to standing height in higher vehicles.