My New Set of Wheels Is More Accommodating to MS Needs

A columnist's choice for the best car for disabled passenger access

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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I’ve been feeling like a soccer mom the past month or so, even though I’m a 74-year-old guy.

My wife and I are leasing a minivan, the go-to wheels of after-school sports parents. It also seems to be a great vehicle for someone with a disability like multiple sclerosis (MS).

I’ve had a lot of cars since getting my driver’s license in 1964. But around 2000, as my MS progressed, I bought another set of wheels — a mobility scooter. I needed a vehicle that could haul it around, and an SUV seemed perfect.

I went from a Toyota 4Runner to a Ford Explorer, a Ford Flex, a GMC Yukon, and a Lincoln Aviator. But I’m not the kid I once was, and my wife and I decided it was time to trade sport for real utility. So, about a month ago when the lease on the Aviator ended, we decided to try a minivan. Now, with a thousand-mile trip from Maryland to Florida under our seat belts, we’re definitely glad we did.

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Our Honda Odyssey

We wanted easy access and comfort. We wanted a vehicle that handled well on the highway. For our Florida trips, which we take with a dog, a cat, and a scooter (not to mention more than a little luggage), we wanted a lot of cargo space. We also wanted a hybrid. We couldn’t get that in our new ride, but we got all of the rest with the Honda Odyssey Elite.

The Odyssey is about 6 inches closer to the ground than any of our SUVs were, which is a big deal. Due to my MS spasticity, my left leg bends very little. Even with running boards, the SUVs were difficult to climb into. I had to grab the center console and drag myself into the driver’s seat.

Getting into the passenger seat was worse, because I needed to use both hands to lift my leg into the car, then grab a handle over the door and yank myself up and in. Six inches made a big difference.

The same was true for lifting my TravelScoot scooter into the rear compartment. It only weighs 35 pounds, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to lift it over the rear bumper. The bumper was collecting more and more scratches. So were my legs as I pulled it out.

Other features that make life easier

Sliding second-row doors are a godsend for placing and removing bags, pets, and anything else you can never open a conventional car door wide enough for. The second-row seats can easily be removed, and the headroom is high enough should the day come that I need to ride my scooter up a ramp and into the vehicle.

I can’t easily turn to look out the back window and a rear-view mirror doesn’t view enough. So a rear-view camera makes backing up a lot safer. I think electric, multiposition driver and passenger seats are a must for long trips by a healthy person, not to mention a pair who gets stiff quickly. Cruise control is also a must.

I’m not a car salesman

I’m not trying to sell you anything. Many car manufacturers make similar minivans, and one of them might be a better choice for you. Most of the options I’ve suggested can be found in other models. 

My Odyssey will never replace the springtime yellow 1966 Mustang convertible that I drove in college. And it’s certainly not the Harleys that some people with MS still ride. But a minivan is now me.

What’s been your experience with cars? Please leave a comment below. I also invite you to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Lisa Cunningham avatar

Lisa Cunningham

Hi Ed,

I acquired a minivan in January this year, a Toyota Sienna conversion van with a ramp. I've had a Ford Expedition for 20 years that had a Bruno lift in the back which picked up and moved my power wheelchair into the car. I would not have bought the minivan, but it had gotten too hard to walk to the back of the Expedition with a walker. The minivan is certainly easier for me, the ramp, the adjustable seats, the sliding doors, but all the electronics have been a problem. They continue to be a problem. I am waiting on some parts now.

I haven't sold the Expedition; the car repair technician suggested that I keep it! I hope your vehicle is more reliable.

Regards,

Lisa

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Lisa,

It's interesting you mention the Sienna. I have a friend in a power chair who can't drive at all, but his wife does. They have a Sienna conversion with a ramp and she's had all sort of trouble with the electronics. Toyota blames the conversion company and vice versa. So yes, keep that Expedition just in case.

Ed

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Marlene Hickman avatar

Marlene Hickman

OMG! I thought I was the only one who struggled with vehicles. My husband drives a Subaru and is easy to slide out of but I have a huge problem elevating and swinging my right leg into the passenger seat. I can still drive and the search for a new vehicle for me was enlightening. We had to try them on and SUVs were just to high. I do not yet have to transport a scooter but I can see it in my future. We thought about mini vans but dismissed the idea. Next time! Thank you for sharing your experience. I feel less "Strange" from the rest of the world who love their SUVs and couldn't understand why I struggled with them

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Marlene,

Thanks for your note. We're two strangers in a strange automotive world, I guess. I did love some of my SUVs, primarily the Flex (which they no longer make) and the Aviator. But, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, and the Odyssey looks decent and can be a fun drive.

Ed

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Mark H avatar

Mark H

Ed
Love your article on minivans. We had a minivan when our two kids were in high school and in college. They called it their party van. My wife and I like you went through the SUVs. But the minivan was the best vehicle we owned. I also suffer from MS and every reason you list for owning a minivan I totally agree.
I live in Colorado and Minivans aren’t very good in the snow. Neither are the SUVs. We bought an all wheel drive Minivan and every fall we put four studded tires on. If it cannot go in the snow we probably shouldn’t be out anyway. Studded tires make it very safe to drive in the snow and ice.
Thanks for a great article Mark

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Mark,

Wow, studded tires. I haven't had them on a vehicle since I was in college in Ithaca, NY ages ago. In NY, and many other states, they're now banned because they chew up the roads. But, now that I'm retired and live half the year in Florida I don't need 'em anymore, anyway.

I did drive with chains, years ago, and that was an experience. I was driving from Reno to Lake Tahoe and I was very glad to have them.

Ed

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Kerri Newell avatar

Kerri Newell

After having our Honda Odyssey accessible van for awhile, I wrote a post on my blog about things to consider before purchasing. https://climbingdownhill.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/10-things-to-know-before-buying-a-wheelchair-accessible-vehicle/

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

That's great information, Kerri. Thanks for sharing it.

Ed

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MADELINE l NEWTON avatar

MADELINE l NEWTON

i am so glad you tell it like it is trying to get into and our of vehicles when you have a leg that doesn't want to cooperate for you when needed ,,,i have the same leg that doesn't want to bend all the time ...thank you for being honest ...enjoy your trips ..be safe ...

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Madeline,

Thanks for your comments. There's certainly no point in not being upfront about the problems I (we) face and I like to share possible solutions. I'm glad you like what I write.

Ed

Reply
Warren Hartman avatar

Warren Hartman

Now using a wheelchair my van choice is the Toyota Sienna minivan. Converted with hand controls, drivers side transfer seat and access ramp out of side door.
I checked out many van options and the modified Sienna has the most negotiating room in a wheelchair once inside the van with doors shut. Some of the vans were super tight inside.
Glad at the time I checked out many van options before buying. Rumor has it that there is a plug in hybrid sienna on the horizon 2 years out.
Next time I need trailer hitch for scooter, offroad mannual Grit wheelchair, or whatever.

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Warren,

Thanks for all of that info. I never would have gone for a minivan but my wife talked me into it. I'm glad she did. As for the hybrid...if Honda is waiting two more years they're going to lose the race.

Ed

Reply
Lynn Noyes avatar

Lynn Noyes

Hello … love your columns; they are always informative and helpful. I notice you mention owning a TravelScoot. How about a post devoted solely to this? I have been thinking a lot about one, primarily because of the light weight. What model do you have? Pros and cons? Comfort and stability? Have you made any alterations or improvements? And so on. Thank you for everything. We appreciate it.

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Lynn,

Sorry for the delayed response...my original answer got blown away.

I have a TravelScoot Deluxe, but they no longer make it. Actually, I've had two over the past ten years or so. I gave my first one quite a beating and the wires that run from the throttle to the motor took quite a beating. I could have just replaced them but I chose to get a slightly updated model about a year ago. Someday I'll replace the wires (TravelScoot sells a replacement kit) and I'll have a spare.

Your choice of model depends on how you'll use it. If you're just going to ride on flat surfaces, or in the grocery store, the Cruiser will do. But it will be slower than the escape, its battery won't last as long and it will be less able to handle inclines or grass. If you're going to travel I think you really need the Escape. I've traveled all over the world with my model, which is similar to the Escape, even through the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey and made it and down the gangplanks on most cruise ships. The battery last through a day of cruise ship excursions.

These little scooters won't be as comfortable as the larger scooter types. Their seats are as hard as bicycle seats. I've also had some trouble folding them completely, so I just lift off the seat and push down the steering column, but I don't fold the leg and steering column, when I put the scooter in the back of my mini-van.

You won't be able to carry too much with the scooter. At the grocery store, even with the optional front and rear baskets, the capacity is small. Though I don't have the baskets I think putting anything heavy in them would be a stability problem. You can put a small travel bag between its legs but the bag really needs to have soft sides. If one or both of your legs are stiff it may be very difficult for you to put the bag on the scooter and lift a leg over it to get on the seat. If you sit first it may be difficult to squeeze the bag into position. There's plenty of engine power, however, to drag a full sized suitcase behind you with one hand while steering and using the throttle with the other.

The stability is so-so and takes getting used to. I've had some close calls on tipping to the side, but I was trying to do too much on a ramp or an uneven surface when they happened. I haven't made any modifications.

I've written a few columns about traveling with this scooter. You should be able to find them by searching for "scooter" along with my name on the website. You can also speak with the scooter's US distributor. I think their number is on the TravelScoot website.

I hope this helps.

Ed

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