The disabled vehicle is all but invisible on the road these days because, surprise, surprise, it not only looks just like any other car, it really is like any other car! You couldn’t spot it from Adam, whether travelling down the motorway or going to the doctor’s surgery, or while doing the weekly shop at your local supermarket. And believe it or not, there are actually tens of thousands of wheelchair accessible vehicles on the roads of the UK on any particular day of the week. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
It’s been happening unnoticed by the able-bodied community for years, the conversion process which turns an ordinary car into one which a disabled person can make use of or even drive with ease. There are many companies across the country who not only do this work on a daily basis, but have been doing so for years, building a tremendous level of expertise in the process.
Let’s get one particular term out of the way right from the off. You may have come across it before – wheelchair accessible vehicle. Maybe not. It’s a bit of a mouthful, let’s face it, so it’s often shortened to the acronym WAV. It simply refers to a disabled vehicle capable of taking on board a person sitting in a wheelchair. The wheelchair user can be the actual driver of the car, because of all the adaptations available making this possible, or simply be the passenger, driven around by an able-bodied person whenever needed. It is possible to set up either scenario given the huge advances in the design of disabled vehicles nowadays.
All WAVs start out as a ‘base’ vehicle, the commercial version of the car anyone might buy from their local car dealer’s showroom. Of course, not every vehicle is suitable for conversion into a WAV because of the extra safety requirements involved when carrying a wheelchair user. Safety is paramount and therefore an extremely rigorous program of testing is first carried out on any vehicle showing potential. Every aspect is examined, from road holding and engine performance to the amount of space available to both the wheelchair user and anyone else who might be on board.
But no matter the vehicle, WAVs tend to have the same sorts of features, such as a means to allow the wheelchair user to get into and out of the vehicle with the minimum of fuss. This is usually achieved by means of a small ramp, normally fitted at the back, which is designed to be deployed easily and then stored away as unobtrusively as possible.
The angle the ramp makes with the ground is crucial because the steeper it is, the more difficult it will be for the wheelchair user to go up and down it. A shallow angle is often achieved because part of the conversion process involves a lowering – and strengthening – of the vehicle’s floor, necessary to take the extra weight of the wheelchair. And naturally, once inside, the wheelchair has to have a system to securely lock it into place.
It really is the case that safety is everything when it comes to today’s disabled vehicle.