In an economy where wheelchair van conversions cost upwards of $40,000, it's no wonder that many
wheelchair users remain without a practical way to transport their powerchairs. Yet, the benefits of
transporting a powerchair - from doctor visits to shopping to work - are life-sustaining activities that
one needs. Fortunately, the recent generation of powerchair platform lifts allows users to economically
stow their powerchairs in or behind a vehicle, at a price that many can afford.|
of powerchair platform lifts began with hitch-mounted scooter carriers, where a platform mounted on the
rear of a car, allowing transport of a scooter. With powerchairs typically heavier and more complex
than scooters, platform lifts for powerchairs required increased strength and securement, leading to
today's genre of platform lifts that function as true docking stations to transport non-occupied powerchairs
with almost any vehicle.
Inside or Out?
Platform lifts are available as exterior and interior
models. Most traditional in design, exterior platform lifts mount via the vehicle's tow hitch receiver,
typically a Class 3 receiver, available on most vehicles, from cars to vans to SUVs and trucks. This
mounting point allows easily mounting the platform lift to the vehicle, with power drawn from the vehicle's
wiring or a self-contained battery pack (for those with more than one car, a battery pack is useful because
the lift can move from vehicle to vehicle without requiring hard wiring). When not in use, the lift
folds against the rear of the vehicle, minimizing overhang.
While exterior platform lifts don't require any interior space to transport a powerchair, they do potentially
expose a powerchair to the elements - after all, the powerchair is suspended from the rear of the vehicle,
out in the open, during transport. Most lift manufacturers offer a powerchair transport cover, and it's
advisable to use a cover in all conditions.|
To eliminate outdoor exposure altogether, interior
platform lifts are increasingly popular. For vans and SUVs, an interior lift mounts inside the vehicle,
commonly where third-row seating mounts (or, less commonly, in the side entry of a van), and lifts the
powerchair up and into the vehicle.
Interior lifts provide absolute security, placing the powerchair within the vehicle, using rear or side
passenger space. Because interior platform lifts are dependent upon interior space and the size of the
powerchair, measurements prior to purchase are critical to confirm proper fit and function.|
Strap or Dock?
Lifting a 300lb. powerchair off of the ground and carting it down the highway is a
serious activity, and as such, security is vital. The traditional means of securing a powerchair to
a platform lift is via tie-down straps. For those with full strength and dexterity, straps work well,
but do, of course, require careful placement.
For those of limited strength and wishing automated
securing, docking systems are available on most platform lifts. A docking system works similar to an
EZ Lock in that a pin is installed on the bottom of the powerchair, then it locks into a receiver block
on the platform lift. To release the chair from the dock, a manual lever unlocks the system. A docking
system is exceptionally reliable and covenant; however, it is powerchair model-specific, so it's necessary
to find out installation compatibility prior to purchasing a lift with a docking system.
Exterior platform lifts start at around $1,900, with higher-end interior lifts costing
in the $2,500 dollar range. Interestingly, pricing usually includes a docking system, resulting in very
affordable packages (and on-line retailers like Spinlife.com, sell lifts at discounts, as well).
Is a Platform Lift the Right Choice?
Beyond the many practical, functional, and economic benefits,
a platform lift isn't for everyone. With platform lifts as non-occupied means of powerchair transport,
the user must be able to transfer out of the chair, into a vehicle. Also, there is some ambulatory activity
required to place the powerchair on the lift and operate the system. For full-time users who must remain
in their powerchairs during transport, platform lifts are not an option. However, for those who remain
somewhat ambulatory, and those with a family member to assist, platform lifts can prove a practical means
of powerchair transport.
Powerchairs are tools of liberation, and the ability to transport them
beyond the home increases independence. Platform lifts are a unique breed in the mobility market, allowing
economical powerchair transport, on the widest range of vehicles, where users can focus less on vehicle
expense and limited selection, and more on integrating their powerchair with their existing vehicles
Published 10/05, Copyright 2005, WheelchairJunkie.com