Did you know you can rent a handicap-accessible van? If you’re not an expert in handicap services, it may never cross your mind that this option exists. You can probably find a rental company in your community, but only if you know to look for it.
In December last year, I gave it a try. My father, Norman, lives in a senior facility and has multiple health issues. He uses a wheelchair. When he first moved to senior care, he was still able to transfer from his wheelchair into my car with help, and I would take him out from time to time for a change of scene.
When his mobility declined further and it was no longer possible to use my car, our outings ended. Dad still wanted to go to Catholic Mass, and we started using a non-emergency wheelchair transportation service. This kind of transportation is convenient and reliable, but it comes at a price. Insurance, such as Medicare or Medicaid does not cover the cost of non-emergency transportation, and we pay out of pocket. Transportation services like this are intended for shorter trips during normal business hours. Longer distances and off-hours service can mean expensive surcharges.
When I discovered a local company that rents wheelchair vans, I got an idea – Christmas is coming up, and what better gift than a day trip?
Dad’s Christmas gift was a day trip in early December to Fort Scott, KS to see the Fort Scott National Historic Site.
The Rental Process
I called United Access a few weeks ahead of time to find out the details and reserve the van. Fortunately, a vehicle was available, and I made the reservation, securing it with a credit card. The rental process was much like renting a car. It is more expensive, but it is still affordable: a 24-hour rental was $129 for up to 125 miles. The van needed to be returned to the same rental location, with a full tank of gas.
I picked up the vehicle on a Friday evening. After the paperwork was done, the rental agent showed me how to operate the side-entry ramp. It all works with a remote control and the push of a button. This van was a regular passenger van converted for handicap access; a new “floor” was installed on top of the original floor of the van, elevated about 6-8 inches and the middle row of seats were removed. When you push the remote control button, the passenger side door glides back, and then the ramp slides out and locks in place. The ramp extends about 4 or 5 feet from the side.
Special seat belts have been installed to secure the wheelchair occupant. Larger ratcheting hooks anchor the wheelchair to the van.
Another push of the remote control button, and the ramp unlocks and slides in. Perfectly coordinated with the ramp, the door gently glides closed, and you are ready to go.
The van comes with a handicap placard, which allowed us to use handicap parking spaces when we stopped. It is important to find a space with plenty of clearance on the passenger side to extend the ramp.
How the Van Worked on Our Trip
On Saturday morning, I picked up Dad at his facility. I had assistance from my husband, and I recommend having a second able-bodied person along to help, at least the first time you rent a van.
Getting the wheelchair into van was easy enough, although it took a little muscle to push Dad and the chair up the ramp. Once in the van, he was facing sideways. Repositioning the wheelchair to face forward in the van was tricky, though; Dad’s wheelchair is long (he is a tall man) and there wasn’t much room to rotate the chair.
Once Dad was facing forward and anchored in place, we were on our way. The van was easy to drive, only a little challenging because I wasn’t familiar with it. I was not used to driving such a big vehicle, seated so high off the ground. The trip to Fort Scott, about 80 miles, was uneventful.
At the National Historic Site, we were able to tour most of the offerings; not all of the park is accessible to a wheelchair. Since the park’s buildings are replicas of those from the 1840’s, not every building could be fitted with elevators. The one building with an elevator had a very tiny one that only fit Dad’s wheelchair and one other person squeezed in!
The trip was a success and it was worth the extra work. Dad enjoyed the day getting away from his facility for a change, having lunch out, and learning a little bit of American history. We made some special memories.
I returned the van that evening after dropping Dad off and filling up the tank. Our trip was more than the 125 mile limit, and the credit card was charged $0.34/mile for the overage.
Impressions about Renting a Handicap Van
Knowing how to rent a handicap van is another tool for a caregiver’s toolkit. For a day trip like the one described in this story, a rental van is a great solution. Other practical uses could be a trip with multiple stops, sporting events or concerts, or a short overnight vacation.
It may not be the best solution for shorter, local transportation needs such as doctor’s’ appointments or one-way trips. The rental process requires a lot more work from the person coordinating the trip: making the reservation, picking up the van, dropping off the van, and loading and unloading the passenger.
The Lifestyle Coordinators at Care is There are experts in local resources and can help families with transportation needs for their older loved ones. We know the local handicap van rental companies, and we can assist with coordinating a trip for the family. Per our service agreement, Lifestyle Coordinators only provide transportation using their personal vehicles, when the client is able to enter and exit the vehicle safely. We cannot rent a van for transporting clients.
Do you need help managing the care of an elderly loved one in Kansas City or Overland Park, Kansas, or in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, or Staunton Virginia?
Contact us at Care is There Geriatric Care Management 800.434.1633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer geriatric care management, support for independent living, assisted living enhancement, Aging Life Care™ services, and peace of mind for long distance caregivers.
AGING LIFE CARE™ is a trademark of the Aging Life Care Association. Only ALCA members are authorized to use this term to identify their services. See the Team page of CareisThere.com for a list of our associates, and look for the Aging Life Care logo on the bio pages of our ACLA members.