Guide To Selecting a Wheelchair Lift
This is an overview of wheelchair lifts and scooter lifts. It reviews the different types of wheelchair lifts and outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each. While we will be talking about wheelchair lifts, the same information applies to scooter lifts as well. Although this review may not cover every topic of wheelchair lifts, it should give you a good start so you can ask the right questions before you buy one.
There are two main categories of wheelchair lifts:
Wheelchair lifts for vehicles, such as cars, vans or buses, these are discussed first.
Wheelchair lifts for houses and other buildings. These are discussed further below, to jump there now click on Home Wheelchair Lifts.
Vehicle Wheelchair Lifts: Inside Versus Outside
If you are interested in buying a wheelchair lift for your vehicle, you have two basic options. ‘Inside wheelchair lifts’ will bring your wheelchair inside of the vehicle and ‘outside wheelchair lifts’ will hold your wheelchair outside of the vehicle, usually behind the vehicle. Each option naturally comes with advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of inside wheelchair lifts
When the wheelchair comes inside, it is protected from weather
This type of wheelchair lift does not cause the vehicle to be longer, so it does not change how the vehicle drives.
Some more expensive inside wheelchair lifts are built so that the wheelchair user can stay in the wheelchair during the transfer
Disadvantages of inside wheelchair lifts
Most of these wheelchair lifts will take up space inside the vehicle or in its trunk, either from the wheelchair lift, the wheelchair or both.
They often require expensive installation or modifications of the vehicle, such as removal of seats.
Some vehicle modifications may change vehicle guarantees.
Advantages of outside wheelchair lifts
Little modification of vehicle required.
Installation is usually easy and inexpensive.
Does not take up space inside of the vehicle.
Disadvantages of outside wheelchair lifts
Wheelchair is out in the weather and can be damaged by rain, wind or road debris
The wheelchair lift sticks out in back, making the vehicle longer and requiring caution when driving.
The longer a vehicle is the more likely it will ‘bottom out’ on driveways or bumps. Many people report problems with this.
A longer vehicle requires extra space when parking and can make parallel parking more difficult.
Inside Wheelchair Lifts
There are four types of ‘inside vehicle wheelchair lifts’
Platform Lift - By far the most common and generally the wheelchair lift of choice for public transport. When not in use the platform is folded, generally to a vertical position either inside or outside of the vehicle. A platform lift can usually handle larger and heavier loads than other wheelchair lifts and some (though not all) are built to raise and lower an occupied wheelchair. The disadvantage is that they usually block the doorway and require a great deal of space for operation. If they are inside of the vehicle, they take up space and often restrict the movement of passenger seats.
Hoist Lift– Looking like a small construction crane, the hoist wheelchair lift is an arm with straps that connect to the wheelchair to raise and lower it. The wheelchair attaches to the arm by the straps and is hoisted inside the vehicle. These are usually the least expensive inside wheelchair lifts and are never used for occupied wheelchairs. While effective, some users complain that the process is very time consuming.
Rotary Lift or Swing Lift - Generally found on personal vehicles this wheelchair lift uses a platform that swings out of the vehicle and then lowers to the ground. This type of wheelchair lift requires a great deal of floor space in the vehicle and usually cannot handle larger wheelchairs. However, rotary lifts do not block doors and do not require as much space to load and unload as a platform lift.
Under Vehicle Lift – This type of wheelchair lift is stored under the vehicle, so it does not take up any space inside of the vehicle. The platform slides out from under the vehicle and rises to the height of the vehicle’s floor. The wheelchair moves out onto the platform and the wheelchair lift descends to the ground. This type of wheelchair lift may require modification to the vehicle’s exhaust system and is often the most expensive option.
Outside Wheelchair Lifts
Outside vehicle wheelchair lifts usually attach to a trailer hitch on the back of the vehicle and therefore are quiet simple to install. If the vehicle has a rear hatch or tailgate, you may be able to buy a ‘swing away’ wheelchair lift or adapter which will allow access even when the wheelchair lift is attached (but usually only when unloaded). Check to see if reflectors are included with your outside vehicle wheelchair lift, often they are not. If not purchase them separately and attaching them after installation.
What do you do if you do not have a hitch on your car? If you are mechanically oriented you can buy and install a wheelchair hitch fairly easily, just make sure the hitch is designed for your vehicle and has enough strength for your wheelchair lift. Alternatively, if you are in the in the USA and want to have a trailer hitch installed for you, U-haul is a leading installer of wheelchair lifts.
Manual Versus Power Wheelchair Lifts
There is another decision to be made about vehicle wheelchair lifts. Will it be manually operated or power operated? And if power operated, what is the power source? Manual wheelchair lifts
Obviously, manual wheelchair lifts are less expensive than power wheelchair lifts, but more difficult to operate depending on your disability. For example, when not in use, some manual outside wheelchair lifts detach and are left behind while others fold up and remain attached to the vehicle. Many people find the detachable wheelchair lifts very heavy and difficult to attach and reattach each time. If you do not have a strong, able-bodied individual available to attach these every time you need them, consider another option. The folding outside wheelchair lifts, while easier to manage, also require strength that some older or disabled people may not have.
Power wheelchair lifts
Most disabled people prefer power wheelchair lifts. Power wheelchair lifts are usually more expensive, but much easier for older and disabled people to operate. Most power wheelchair lifts have a backup system which is manually operated in the case of power failure. Make sure yours does too or you could get stuck if the battery dies. There are usually two options for power to operate the wheelchair, the car battery or an optional ‘onboard’ battery:
Onboard Battery: The onboard battery is recharged by connecting it to a standard electrical outlet. Most are easily removable so you can take it inside the house and charge it up and get it ready for the next use. The onboard battery makes this wheelchair lift easier to install, but you will always be recharging it and you will have the additional cost of buying the battery and replacing it every 3-5 years.
Car Battery: If you connect your power wheelchair lift to your car battery, it will be more difficult or expensive to install as it will require installing wires from the back of the vehicle to the battery. But you do not have to pay for an onboard battery and once installed you never have to worry about recharging the battery. Therefore, this is probably the most convenient option for those that can afford it.
Funding a Wheelchair Lift
How do you pay for a vehicle modification? Unfortunately, Medicare usually does not pay for vehicle wheelchair lifts (unless a child is involved). However there are some potential sources of funds. For example:
Many, if not all of the car manufacturers have programs which offer financial assistance towards the cost of installation of adaptive equipment on new car purchases. Click to see the program for: Toyota, General Motors, Chrysler, Ford. We have not listed every manufacturer's program, but nearly all of them have similar programs. If your manufacturer is not listed here, ask them.
If you have been injured on the job, workers compensation may cover some or all of the costs of vehicle adaptation.
Veteran’s benefits usually provide for modifications.
Liability insurance usually provides for adaptations if your disability has come from an accident.
Some state vocational programs may pay for vehicle modification if it is necessary to return to work. Click to find the Vocational Rehabilitation agency in your state.
Some charities may be able to help. For example, if you are from Ontario, Canada, the Ontario March of Dimes has a Home and Vehicle Modification Program.
Some local governments may be able to help. Just a few examples are: Atlanta, Delaware.
Many states have programs which offer loans to disabled people for assistive technology. Click here for a list of State Loan Programs.
Ask at your local Center for Independent Living to see if they know of a funding source. Click here to find addresses of Centers for Independent Living.
This list is by no means complete, there are literally hundreds of programs and charities which may be able to help you, many more than any of us know. If you know of a fund, charity or program which will help disabled people purchase wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, wheelchair lifts or other mobility equipment please leave a note in the comment box at the bottom of this page. If we get enough good ideas, we will begin a list on a separate page. This would be a great help for everyone.