There are 4.3 million wheelchair users in the nation. Nick Gutwein, president of BraunAbility, a company that converts vans to be accessible, wants to help make life easier for them. He recently told The New York Times that it was now possible to “fly into many cities across the country and easily rent a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.” Here’s how to find these vans, how they get converted, and what it’ll cost you.
Q: Nick, What does one do when they’re traveling for business or fun in a wheelchair? Is it easy to rent an accessible van from Hertz or Avis just like any other car?
A: Mainstream companies like Hertz have several services available for physically challenged folks, but they do not rent accessible minivans. There are three major Accessible van rental companies that have outlets around the country: Accessible Vans of America (866-224-1750); Wheelchair Getaways (800-642-2042) and Wheelers (800-456-1371). In addition to these companies, most of our Braun dealers across the country have rental vans. You can go to our website and fill out a form to find a BraunAbility Wheelchair Van dealer.
Q: What about cost — how much does it cost vs. a typical rental car?
A: The accessible minivans start around $110 a day. This rate does get lower with a larger time commitment. The manufacturer rebates are not applicable as they apply to sales not rentals.
Q: I was at a conference and it cost my friend in a wheelchair $75 to get home to his hotel because he needed an accessible ride. It cost me $10. When is this going to change?
A: There are some places where the change has already taken place. The state of Nevada has a Taxi commission that regulates the price of taxi trips and the cost is the same for an accessible cab as it is for a non-accessible one. In my research I spoke with the taxi authority in New York City and was told that rides were the same cost in the city as well. The availability of the accessible taxis may be a factor in some area. When a private company is contacted for accessible transportation, the costs are likely higher.
Q: What’s a typical van conversion look like, and what companies do you work with? Are there any stand-outs in terms of car manufacturers when it comes to accessibility?
A: On the outside, our typical conversion is hard to discern from an unconverted vehicle. The goal is to provide the customer with a product that meets their needs, without it looking any different from other vehicles on the road. We currently convert Toyota, Chrysler and Honda minivans, such as the 2010 Toyota Sienna Rampvan XT and the 2010 Honda Odyssey Entervan — the newest members of the BraunAbility fleet. Each brand has their followers, and in similar ways each conversion provides the customer with features that meet their tastes. Items such as interior height, interior space and ramp style, all play into the decision-making process.
Q: What kind of thought goes into the design and coolness factor of a van conversion?
A: On the interior of our vehicles, the coolness factor is embodied in the functionality of our conversion. The lowered floor, easy entry ramp, ample wheelchair space, and easily removable passenger and driver seats give the wheelchair user the functionality needed for transportation. All of this is accomplished while still giving them an interior fit and finish that appears straight from the factory. On the exterior, the same applies. We want to give our customer that OEM (original equipment manufacturer) look, from overall design, stance and finish. Even the ground effects, which hide the lowered floor area, are designed to smoothly flow with the design of the vehicle. The end result is a wheelchair-accessible, lowered floor minivan conversion that doesn’t look like a conversion at all.