Changed or modified to suit a new or different purpose. If a vehicle is adapted for wheelchair use, the floor may be raised, a lift or ramp installed or perhaps doors are widened.


The action of what is done to a van or other vehicle to make it accessible and driveable for those with disabilities. Most vehicles roll off the assembly line at a manufacturing plant as a passenger van without ramps, lifts or other wheelchair or accessible equipment. The vehicle is then modified by a separate company or NMEDA manufacturer that installs accessible and adaptive devices. It is then called a conversion van ready for use by someone with disabilities.

Full-size Vans

Recommended for larger families with multiple members in a wheelchair or for an individual using a large wheelchair that would not traditionally fit in a minivan.

Hand Controls

For seniors and those with progressive muscle weakness, hand controls can compensate for decreasing strength and range of motion in the driver’s hands and legs. Occupational therapists often recommend such devices:

  • Push/pull controls require the most arm strength. The control must be pushed to brake; pulled and held to accelerate.
  • Push/right angle controls are the most popular because it’s less fatiguing than push/pull. The user must push the control forward to brake and down toward the thigh with a slight pull to the torso for acceleration.
  • Push/twist controls are used very similar to a motorcycle. The vehicle will accelerate with a twist of the handle and will brake with a push of the hand control lever.
  • Push/rock controls are used similar to slot machines. The driver must rock his or her hand on the top of the handle – rocking back to accelerate and forward to apply the brakes.


The van actually “kneels” by lowering itself closer to the ground for easy loading and unloading. (Air suspension puts the magic in kneeling). It makes it easier to get a wheelchair into and out of the vehicle.


Wheelchair lifts for an accessible vehicle are available to raise the individual up to the vehicle. They offer a variety of features such as whisper-quiet operation and remote controls, depending on what is needed and what can be afforded. Although their automation makes them more convenient than ramps, they are more expensive. Other features include:

  • Automatic or electric roll stops assure the wheelchair stays in place during operation.
  • Threshold sensor mats are installed inside the van to warn users against exiting if the lift is not level with the floor of the van.
  • Integrated manual backup systems provide a manual backup pump within the driver’s reach and allow the platform to be raised and lowered manually in case of power failure.
  • Bridging mechanisms allow users to safely board the lift from sidewalks or inclines.
  • Standard hand-held control, on-lift controls and remote controls assist with lift operations.


They offer economical gas mileage, are easy to park and permit quick transfers in and out of the driver seat. There are a variety of minivan manufacturers and models to choose from.

  • Side entry minivans are typically for people in wheelchairs who intend on being the primary driver.
  • Rear entry vehicles are more commonly used for caregivers of a person with disability. The caregiver serves as the primary driver.


An incline connecting the ground to the van, which allows entry into the vehicle from the wheelchair. They are versatile and can be purchased at a lower cost than lifts, which makes them a popular item among wheelchair users. Portable ramps can be mounted on most vehicles without having to alter the structure of the vehicle and are easy to transfer and store. Since they are not necessarily permanently attached to the vehicle, they can also be used on vehicles, trailers, steps and porches. Some styles of ramps include:

  • Basic ramps are lightweight enough to be used with little exertion by a caregiver or attendant. They are not mechanical, so they do not break down easily and rarely need expensive repairs. They take up a minimum of space when folded.
  • Platform access ramps are heavier than the basic ramp. They carry heavy loads and passengers with disabilities. They also fold for storage and can be easily carried.
  • Roll-up ramps allow you to easily roll up the ramp, put it in a bag and store it in the back of a van, trunk of a car or under a seat.
  • Channel or track wheelchair ramps – Two thin ramps provide channel for each side of the wheelchair. Bumpers on each one prevent the wheelchair from falling off. These ramps can hold up to 600 pounds or more depending on the brand.

Steering Aids

Require the drivers to use minimal effort for steering or are designed specifically for quadriplegics:

  • Steering column extensions bring the steering wheel two-six inches closer to the wheelchair driver. It provides extra legroom and compensates for reduced range of movement.
  • Deep-dish steering wheels bring the steering wheel rim approximately four inches closer to the wheelchair driver and is normally used with a low-effort steering system. Lessens the range of steering motion.
  • Foot steering controls transfer hand control to foot operation. Auxiliary and secondary vehicle controls are also adapted to foot operation.
  • Horizontal steering columns are motorized, telescoping steering columns customized for those who experience limited arm strength and range of motion, and those who cannot use a conventional steering wheel.
  • Low effort steering reduces the strength needed to steer by approximately 40 percent.
  • Zero effort steering reduces the strength needed to steer by about 70 percent.
  • One-hand drive control systems are designed for people with limited or no use of lower extremities but have good strength in one arm and hand. Its main component is a knob through which the steering, brake and throttle are activated.
  • Steering spinners are designed for drivers who must steer with one hand. They are available in a variety of configurations including an amputee ring, knob, “quad-steering cuff,” palm grip, tri-pin and v-grip.
  • Steering forks support people with reduced grip function. The hand stays safely in place with support of the back of the hand and enables secure control of the vehicle.

Trucks and specialty vehicles

Available for those with disabilities who would prefer a more unique mode of transportation. Typically, power lifts will hoist and store wheelchairs in the bed of the truck from either the side door or tailgate. Specialty vehicles such as motorcycles and outdoor equipment are also available for modification.