WAVs is an acronym for wheelchair accessible vehicles or vans. In some instances or places, it could be referred to as an adaptable or accessible vehicle.
Just as their name implies, WAVs are usually modified vehicles that are made so that people in a wheelchair or mobility devices like a scooter can have ease of accessibility into a vehicle. This is done by expanding the size of the vehicle’s interior as well as equipping it with features that allow entry into the van like a powered lift or wheelchair ramp.
A disabled person asides from transporting their wheelchair or being transported themselves may choose to drive their WAV. As a passenger, you will mostly have access to and be seated at the rear of the vehicle but can also sit in other parts of the van. As a driver, the WAV may be designed with special controls so you can drive either in your wheelchair or in an adapted seat.
There is a wide range of wheelchair accessible vehicles available to select from. They range from small to large ones that may be used by the whole family. Usually, most WAV start as standard vehicles before they are transformed by an engineering company called converters who specialized in doing so. Also, the design and size of the WAV will be dependent on the original vehicle that was modified and the company that handled the conversion. In any case, they all provide easy access as well as safe handling. You can read further on this here.
Why WAVs are Important
Typically, standard vehicles are not designed to be fitted with a mobility device or wheelchair access. This results in a struggle, as well as a hard time for persons who use these devices and wheelchairs. This also impacts their relatives or caregivers in some as they have to help lift them into the vehicle. A wheelchair accessible vehicle helps to eliminate this stress of entering into a vehicle. The person in the wheelchair can easily wheel themselves in and out with little or no help.
Depending on the person, users of a wheelchair or any other mobility device may transfer from the mobility device directly into the van. Some may be able to walk a short distance into the vehicle while others will need to use a lift. Inside the van, a person may choose to transfer to the seat or stay in their mobility device. This is the same for persons who may wish to drive the vehicle by themselves. While some may drive using the seat of the vehicle, others may be able to do so in their wheelchair.
In any of these cases, the mobility device will still need to be placed inside or on the vehicle. This is so that it is available when they need to come out of the van. To this end, some may need a hoist in helping to lift the device onto the vehicle.
WAVs make all these possible by allowing a disabled person to enter a vehicle, lift their mobility device and drive the vehicle with little or no assistance.
When you can no longer transfer from your wheelchair to the seat of a standard car or your caregiver cannot lift you any longer, then it may be time to get a WAV. WAVs typically help you to remain independent which is something most disabled people value.
Types of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
There are mostly two types of WAVs: the side entry and the rear entry. While the side entry is best for people who intend to drive the vehicle, the rear entry is usually preferable for those sitting as passengers. It is particularly useful for families who have a child in a wheelchair. We take a deeper look at the two types below.
Side Entry WAVs
A lot of non-commercial WAVs are typically designed to have a side entry which makes it easy to either pick up or drop off. With this, vehicular traffic can be avoided. They also have seats that are removable while some may have seats connected to the doors. This can be set up as soon as the door is closed. The side entry provides for the wheelchair user to either be a passenger or driver. This makes them a great choice for people who like to drive always or sometimes. This means that the person can also seat in the front seat.
Side entry WAVs require a parking space for handicaps as well as an extra room for deploying the ramp. The challenge with this is that some driveways may not be able to accommodate the vehicle due to the space it needs.
Rear Entry WAVs
These types of vans typically have a lowered area at the rear for accommodating a foldout ramp and the mobility device. With rear entry, there is no need to modify the vehicle as much because the middle seats can be left unmodified so other passengers can sit there.
Rear entry is preferable for users who do not intend to drive. Parallel parking can be a challenge for this setup. This is because it requires considerable space at the back of the van but they will fit into most garages. Another challenge to rear entry is the limitation it has when it comes to entry and exit in a traffic area but they do not require any special parking. They are much simpler than side entry WAVs and they cost much less.
Features of WAVs
WAVs come with a lot of different features. Below are some of those that may be important to consider when buying one.
As previously mentioned, WAV comes in different sizes and this is simply so that they can suit or meet different needs. They can come in sizes such as small, medium, medium-large, large, and extra-large.
A small WAV can fit between two to three people and they usually have a lowered floor in addition to making accessibility easier. They also come fitted with ramps at the rear and will not likely have a lift.
Medium WAVs are usually vans or cars that have been converted and they can seat up to 4 people. They are larger and more spacious than the smaller types. They are perfect for short breaks as well as small family outings and they typically have a ramp for rear entry.
Medium-large can take up to five passengers in addition to a wheelchair user. They come equipped with a lowered floor and ramp which often time is at the rear. Some models in this category though can come with side entry ramps.
Large WAVs can usually take up to seven or more people but this may not be the case always. They also come with more internal space as well as space for luggage. This makes them flexible when it comes to changing their internal specification.
Finally, extra-large vehicles are the largest of them all. They usually use the same engine and come with the same floor plan but with different external features. They can also come in different lengths including standard, medium, long and extra-long. An advantage of this type is the flexibility that they have in carrying multiple mobility devices.
Depending on the mode of entry, the location of the passenger on the wheelchair is quite important. Will the person be a front passenger seater, the driver, just behind the first set of seats or much further back? It is good to consider where the wheelchair user will be positioned in the vehicle before beginning your search. This is so you can focus on the kind of vehicles that will suit you that is, have a seat where you want it. A lot of these depend on the needs of the wheelchair user.
A lot of WAVs typically have their floors specially lowered to allow sufficient headroom for a mobility device user. This also makes it easier to access the vehicle as it allows the ramp to be short and its angle less steep. It is essential that whatever WAV you choose has adequate ground clearance on routes that you ply regularly. You should also take extra care especially when going over speed bumps.
Ramps and Lifts
Ramps, as well as lifts, are what offer easy accessibility into a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Often, ramps are most times manually operated. The caregiver will need to physically unfold it from either the back or the side. They can also sometimes be automatic which is more expensive. In this case, the ramp will unfold as well as fold via the push of a button. Manual ramps are usually lighter and can sometimes be gas-assisted for easy lowering and raising.
When buying, you should consider both the angle as well as the length of the WAV’s ramp. Some ramp options may be easier to use than others and some converters may provide a powered winch that will come without an extra cost. You can enquire if this is available.
For lifts, they usually come with larger WAVs and this can be helpful if a caregiver has some trouble pushing the wheelchair up a ramp. Bear in mind though that a lift will typically be more expensive than a ramp.
All WAVs come with restraint systems. They will usually come with four restraint belts that are attached to both the front and the rear of the mobility chair. This helps to keep it in place inside the van. The front restraints are designed to be adjustable and they are typically self-locking just like a seat belt.
Different mechanisms are available for attaching restraints to a wheelchair with some easier than others. In addition to the restraints, wheelchairs come with seatbelts that help to keep a user safe during a commute.
Buying A WAV
Everyone is different and so are their needs. So you must consider your needs when purchasing a WAV. You need to check the various features that are available that will make your accessibility easier. You need to decide the size of the van you want including the number of seats and where you as a wheelchair user will be positioned.
The headroom is also one of the most important factors to put into consideration alongside the lowered floor so that you are sure to be accommodated and comfortable. You may also choose to buy either a petrol or a diesel vehicle.
To be certain you are getting the most suitable van for yourself, you can talk to WAV sellers and converters about your needs. They will be able to guide you in choosing what will work best for you.
When buying from and working with a seller, they also may be able to give you advice on financing and insuring your WAV. They also provide you with a warranty that covers it and if you intend to sell your WAV, they can take it off you.
Getting around can be tough for people in a wheelchair but a WAV makes it much easier. These vehicles come with a range of features and have either a side or rear entry. When considering buying one, you should take your time to seek out features that would meet your needs. You can also do this by consulting with a reliable seller or converter.