What are wheelchair vans?

Wheelchair passengers can travel safely and comfortably with the help of wheelchair-accessible vans. The wheelchair lift or ramp location is key in determining which van is best suited for your application. The options available are side-entry and rear-entry wheelchair accessible vans.  Ambulatory passengers can still enter the vehicles through the standard passenger doors, so the access points being discussed (side-entry and rear-entry) refer to the wheelchair passengers’ entry points.


Each Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) model offers different advantages for your fleet. You can learn about each option below to help make the best choice.

Types of Wheelchair Vans

Side-entry wheelchair vans

Side-entry vans are preferred by fleets when routes or services require quick and safe loading of wheelchairs, which is best accomplished on the curbside of the vehicle. The convenience of curbside loading translates into most applications though and has typically been the most popular option for transportation professionals. Side-entry vans are vastly different from rear-entry vans. With rear-entry vans, the wheelchair passenger will have to travel into the street, or into the flow of parking lot traffic to access the rear-tailgate entry point. Because side-entry vans keep wheelchair passengers out of heavy-traffic areas, they are generally considered a safer option. Loading a wheelchair passenger by simply pulling up to a curb, or a doorway in a roundabout is also a faster process. Parallel parking will not create any issues with side-entry vans due to the fact that wheelchair access is at the curb. Rear-entry vans have difficulties finding parallel parking spaces long enough to accommodate the additional rear space needed to deploy the ramp or lift. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, some fleets find the side-entry ramp to be a more dignified experience for the passenger, as opposed to entering the WAV in the rear cargo area.

Rear-entry wheelchair vans

Rear-entry access vans are for fleets that can spend more time loading a wheelchair passenger, and in the case of minivans, are looking to spend a little less money on the vehicle. Rear-entry vans are less flexible than side-entry regarding loading/unloading passengers, but serve a purpose if there are no limitations on where you can do this.  Rear-entry vans can fit into any sized parking space, even the standard width spaces whereas side-entry requires a wide handicap space to accommodate the side ramp. They can also pull back into personal driveways, and meet the wheelchair customer closer to their door/garage if their driveway does not have a restrictive slope to it.  Knowing the characteristics of your neighborhoods, and whether there are large amounts of sloped driveways, is key to determining whether rear-loading vans will work for your application. 

Wheelchair Access Technologies

For a wheelchair to enter a vehicle, it needs to do so in a safe, comfortable manner that meets ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements.  There are two main methods for wheelchairs to enter vehicles: Wheelchair Lifts and Wheelchair Ramps.

Wheelchair Lifts

Found almost exclusively on full-sized vans, wheelchair lifts are designed to safely lift the passenger from ground level and raise them into the vehicle body. Once in the vehicle, the wheelchair and passenger are secured with wheelchair restraints and a passenger lap shoulder belt.  The lift is stored inside the vehicle, stowed in a folded, upright position. Lifts can be operated by anyone, they raise and lower with a handheld remote and raise with hydraulics. A person in their 70s can just as easily operate a wheelchair lift as a person in their 20s. Wheelchair lift platforms come in a few sizes, all of which meet ADA. They also come in 800 and 1,000 pound weight capacities. 

Wheelchair Ramps

Ramps are most common in minivans, and to meet ADA, the ramp is required to have a slope of 1:6. This means that the floor of the minivan must be lowered at the entry point to get the ramp to meet ADA. Ramps have less moving parts than lifts, but require more vehicle conversion to lower the floor. A wheelchair ramp allows a passenger to navigate themselves into the vehicle. If the wheelchair passenger requires assistance, though, you may need a driver who can handle the physical requirements of pushing the chair into the van. There are two types of ramps:

Fold-Out Ramps

Fold-out ramps can be operated manually or electronically with remote control. The ramp is stowed on the inside of the vehicle in a folded position and extends outward when deployed. They work well when placed over impediments such as curbs. These ramps are durable and strong and swing out of the way of the side entrance when not in use to allow for ambulatory passengers to enter the vehicle.

In-Floor Ramps

In-floor ramps are stowed under the floor of wheelchair vans. It makes for obstacle-free doorways, more cargo storage, lowered floor angles, a cleaner interior, and quiet rides. Because of these features, it gives users more space inside the van for 360-degree maneuverability. The ramp slides out from under the floor, like a cassette, when deployed and slides back under the floor when not in use.  

Whichever mode of wheelchair passenger loading you are thinking of purchasing, make sure you consider your fleet’s loading situations. Also, consider whether your vehicle will be on a time-sensitive route when you select your van. If you have further questions or would like to purchase a van, our representatives at Schetky Bus & Van Sales are here to help. We’ll happily assist you with your purchase and provide you with a top-quality vehicle at a competitive price.