When considering our next Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) we began looking at the different options available to replace our rear entry, passenger WAV. We organised a home demo of a sit upfront wheelchair accessible vehicle after the idea of travelling upfront in my wheelchair appealed to us. So what is a sit upfront WAV and what are the advantages and disadvantages?
This is my experience and thoughts after having a home demo of the Sirus Automotive Ford Tourneo Connect upfront WAV.
What is an Upfront Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
For over fifteen years as a Motability Scheme customer, I have always had a rear entry, passenger WAV. This allows me to drive my wheelchair up the ramp at the back of the vehicle and once in position my wheelchair is secured with wheelchair restraint belts (tie-downs).
Our current Motability lease is coming to an end so we are exploring our options for when we can choose our new Motability vehicle. Up until the last few years, rear entry WAVs have always been the best option for us.
However, after attending the Motability Scheme’s One Big Day event in Edinburgh we got to see the range of vehicles on display. It gave us the opportunity to go inside different vehicles in my powered wheelchair and get a feel for what I liked and didn’t like as well as what worked and didn’t work for our needs.
At the event, I was able to try a couple of sit upfront wheelchair accessible vehicles. The two we tried were the InFront Doblo and Ford Upfront Passenger.
An Upfront passenger wheelchair accessible vehicle is designed to enable a wheelchair user to travel in the front of the vehicle next to the driver. There is also a ‘drive from’ when the wheelchair user is the driver and wants to remain in their wheelchair while driving.
Rear Entry vs Side Entry WAV
Our Ford Tourneo connect with rear entry wheelchair ramp has taken us up and down the UK multiple times over the years, and despite having a breakdown and several repair works, it’s a comfortable car to ride in.
After seeing the Ford Tourneo Sit Upfront Passenger conversion at the event we considered this a possible contender as our next Motability WAV.
Our main concerns for this conversion was the side entry ramp and whether there would be enough room to manoeuvre my wheelchair into position.
But the driving force for considering a sit upfront WAV was being able to sit next to my partner and easily have a conversation without having to shout from the back.
Home demo of the Ford Upfront Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
Arranging a home demo of the Upfront Passenger with Sirus Automotive was quick and easy.
The two hour home demo allowed us to take into account our concerns while trying out different scenarios. This included typical daily tasks like driving to the supermarket and parking in a disabled bay.
Once parked in the disabled parking bay I practised getting in and out of the vehicle using the side ramp.
The home demo was relaxed and the rep gave us time to go at our pace. Although it would be ideal to have a weekend demo to really get a feel for it.
But we enjoyed the home demo and test drive as they gave us lots of things to think about, both good and bad.
So what are some of the pros and cons of sitting upfront in your wheelchair compared to in the back of the vehicle?
Advantages of Sit Upfront Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
1. Easy to look out the windows and enjoy unobstructed views
It can be quite difficult to see out the windows when sitting in the back of the WAV. When I was sat upfront I was amazed at how much I was able to see out the front and side windows. Usually, I miss out on seeing so much when sat in the back, but I love being able to look out and up at the sky.
2. Having the drivers support if I need assistance
Due to my muscle weakness, I’m unable to lift my arms up. I’m further restricted when I’m travelling in my WAV and wearing my seatbelt. This makes simple things like eating, drinking or moving my hair off my face impossible when sitting alone in the back.
But the sit upfront WAV would enable my partner to help me if I needed anything like having a drink or something to eat. This would be particularly helpful during long car journeys.
3. The conversations and feeling included
Sitting alone in the back can be lonely especially during long car journeys. The noise from the roads can make chatting with the driver difficult which often results in having to shout to be heard or sitting in silence.
Sitting upfront makes chatting and even singing together so much easier. Anyone for carpool karaoke?
4. The boot storage
Our Ford Tourneo Connect WAV with rear entry means it doesn’t have a boot. So we liked the fact that the Sirus Ford Upfront passenger WAV has a boot in the back. This would be perfect for storage especially when we are travelling as we need to take equipment and extra luggage with us. It would also be great for daily life too like shopping bags and still have space for two passengers in the back.
Disadvantages of Sit Upfront Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
1. Side entry wheelchair ramp
The side entry ramp was easier than I originally expected but still took me a few tries to work out the best way to enter and exit. The type of wheelchair you have would also factor into how easy or difficult getting in and out of the vehicle would be.
I have a rear-wheel drive wheelchair so turning in tighter spaces is more difficult than a mid-wheel drive wheelchair. Therefore it’s best to book a home demo before making your final decision.
I practised entering and exiting the vehicle while parked in a supermarket disabled parking bay. This was relatively easy, but I still have some concerns when it comes to smaller parking bays. Or when another car parks too close to ours and there isn’t enough space to pull the side ramp down.
2. Space to manoeuvre my wheelchair
Although there appeared to be more floor space in the Ford Upfront WAV compared to my current Ford Tourneo Connect with rear entry, I did struggle to manoeuvre my wheelchair inside.
My feet and wheelchair footplates kept hitting the driver’s seat when I was trying to turn into the passenger wheelchair space. It took me several tries to finally get into the space.
As I reversed out of the space to exit the vehicle, the same thing happened with my feet/footplates hitting the driver’s seat. I don’t want the hassle of taking my footplates off each time I enter and exit.
3. Distance to the driver
Once I positioned my wheelchair in the front passenger space I couldn’t help but notice how tight the space was between me and the driver. My wheelchair controller was encroaching into the driver’s space which slightly affected their ability to comfortably use the gear stick.
This concerned me especially considering I have a very narrow wheelchair. How would this work when I renew my wheelchair and it’s a little wider?
4. The Advance Payment
As with most Motability wheelchair accessible vehicles, they come with high Advance Payments, but the sit upfront WAV is considerable higher. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be able to apply for a grant to help pay toward the Advance Payment.
Our current Motability lease doesn’t end until next year, so we still have time to weigh up the pros and cons and have another home demo if needed. By the time we need to make our final decision, we may find there are new WAVs available and different things to consider especially as I’m in the process of getting a new wheelchair.
Do you have a sit upfront passenger wheelchair accessible vehicle? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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