Toyota Sienna. Click image to enlarge
By Brad Miller
Editor’s note: author Brad Miller is a 35-year old freelance journalist living with Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy, a condition which limits his ability to walk and gets progressively worse over time. He writes a personal blog, My Becker’s Story, to help raise awareness of muscular dystrophy. Over the past few months, Brad has been test driving many new vehicles to determine which are best suited for people with disabilities. These are his personal choices.
2011 Toyota Sienna
The 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan is a vehicle that should definitely be at or near the top of the list for those with disabilities – it is a vehicle that is capable of handling a wide variety of needs. To me, it looks like Toyota took the time to think about people with disabilities – they have created is a vehicle that is fully customizable and can easily be made accessible for anyone who requires the use of a wheelchair or a mobility scooter. Toyota even provides the option of having a Power Mobility Seat installed to help make it easier to get in and out.
Toyota Sienna. Click image to enlarge
The Sienna offers many standard features and options that people with disabilities would find very beneficial, such as power sliding side doors with a large door opening, a low step-in height, steering wheel mounted controls, and a back-up camera with a 180-degree panoramic view that makes it easier when reversing this large minivan.
On the road, I was very impressed by the feel of the Sienna’s standard electric power steering which can only be described as extremely smooth. Some will feel a bit of a disconnect from the road but anyone who suffers with upper arm issues will really enjoy driving the Sienna.
Another great feature is Toyota’s subscription-based Safety Connect service which provides customers with Roadside Assistance, Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location and best of all Emergency Assistance available by the push of a Button – a great service for anyone living with a disability.
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan
My first impression of the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan was that Dodge did a great job of creating a vehicle that can accommodate the needs of many different groups of people, including those with disabilities.
Dodge Grand Caravan. Click image to enlarge
What impressed me the most about the interior was its standard Stow ‘N Go seating which allows drivers to simply fold the rear seats directly into the floor. If you choose to, you can order third-row power seats that fold into the floor with a press of a button. The Stow ‘N Go feature is very beneficial to those living with disabilities since it allows them to move seats without having to lift them out of the vehicle. And with the rear seats folded down into the floor there is plenty of room to place a walker or even a small sized collapsible mobility scooter.
Another feature I liked is its step-in height which is low enough that people with disabilities should have no problem accessing the rear seats. Like most other minivans, the Grand Caravan gives buyers the option of adding power side sliding doors and even a power liftgate.
The cabin offers buyers plenty of storage space and you also have the option of upgrading to their premium “Super Console” which provides even more storage space along with cup holders and power outlets.
Behind the wheel, I really enjoyed the simple layout of the controls along with the very useful steering wheel-mounted controls. The interior is quite impressive and the seating position helped to give me a commanding view of the road. For backing up, the Grand Caravan can be ordered with the optional Back-up Camera.
During my time spent with the 2011 Dodge Caravan I was happy with its performance and it handled well for such a large vehicle.
2011 Honda Odyssey
Many will agree that the new look of the 2011 Honda Odyssey is a big departure from what we’re used to from Honda. From certain angles, the Odyssey looks more like a station wagon than anything else.
Honda Odyssey. Click image to enlarge
With its low step-in height, the Odyssey is one of the easiest mini-vans to get in and out of. My test minivan featured leather seats which really did help make it very easier to slide into the front and rear seats. I was impressed with the interior and how well everything was laid out: the instrument panel looks to be designed with the driver in mind: every button was well within reach and the steering wheel-mounted controls were very easy to use. The dash of the 2011 Honda Odyssey now features an optional and very large eight-inch monitor which displays vehicle related information and it comes with Honda’s rear-view camera which features a grid system making it a lot easier to back up into a parking space.
The passenger cabin offers many of the popular mini-van features such as removable second row seats and third row seats that fold directly into the floor, the latter probably the most useful standard feature found in the Odyssey. The third row of seats comes with Honda’s one-motion 60/40 split 3rd-row “Magic Seat” which was designed to make folding the seats into the floor a quick and effortless task. And with the rear liftgate opened and the third row folded flat, the Odyssey offers plenty of room to place a mobility scooter securely inside. Whether the third row of seats is folded flat or in the upright position you’ll be pleased to learn that the 2011 Honda Odyssey offers you a cargo area capable of transporting many different mobility aids with little or no trouble. If you require the full time use of a power wheel chair you will be happy to hear that the Honda Odyssey can be fully modified to cater to your needs.
On the road, the 2011 Honda Odyssey doesn`t feel like your typical mini-van – it was actually very enjoyable to drive, and out of all the large sized mini-vans I tested I believe the Odyssey is a vehicle I would have no problem driving on a daily basis.
2012 Mazda 5
Mazda5. Click image to enlarge
The Mazda5 will impress those looking for a unique and sporty drive. I tend to think of it as the “sports car of mini-vans” since it handles a bit like a sports car and offers you the cargo space and versatility of a mini-van. The greatest thing about the Mazda 5 is its ride height which results in a vehicle that very easy to get in and out of for those with disabilities who struggle getting up from a low seated position.
The interior of the 2012 Mazda 5 is what I would label as sporty and very functional. Everything is well with-in reach and maybe the most useful feature for those with disabilities is the steering wheel-mounted audio controls which help to eliminate the issue of having to reach over to change or adjust the radio.
When it comes to its ability to transport a mobility scooter it ranks pretty high since the third row of seats fold flat giving you plenty of room to put a small sized collapsible mobility scooter. But if you are looking for a vehicle that is capable of being fully customized to fit a large sized mobility scooter then a larger minivan would better suit your needs.
2012 Chevrolet Equinox
Chevrolet Equinox. Click image to enlarge
I was surprised at how great the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox is for those living with disabilities. I was impressed with the layout of the interior since the dash was designed to surround the driver putting everything at your fingertips and making it very easy to access the radio, cruise control, and climate control buttons. Another available feature many people will find useful is the optional back-up camera which is uniquely placed in the rear-view mirror allowing the driver to keep their eyes focused in the right place.
Unlike smaller sized SUVs, the 2012 Equinox gives buyers plenty of cargo room so there is more than enough room to put a small-sized mobility device such as a collapsible scooter or walker. One of the greatest features available on the 2012 Equinox is the optional power lift gate which can be operated by remote or from inside the vehicle. You can even program it to stop at a certain points making it easy to access when parked inside your own garage.
The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox comes standard with a safety feature that goes a long way to help those living with disabilities: OnStar. With a touch of a button you’re automatically connected to a live advisor who can help you along your way with Turn-by-Turn Directions. The OnStar system also features hands-free calling, but one of the best features for those living with disabilities is that if you ever run into an emergency you can press OnStar’s red Emergency button and be connected right away to a specially trained emergency advisor. With a feature like OnStar, the driver can relax knowing if they ever run into a problem, OnStar can send help right away.
2011 Dodge Journey
Dodge Journey. Click image to enlarge
The 2011 Dodge Journey surprised me the most during the process of test driving many different vehicles. I really enjoyed my time with the Dodge Journey and the interior played a big role in this since everything was well laid out and easily accessible. I was also extremely impressed with the completely updated front dash which helps give the Journey a more upscale and sporty feel. One of the features people with disabilities will find very useful is the steering wheel mounted controls which allow drivers to operate a wide range of features found.
The most useful and impressive feature found inside the Journey is the addition of the new large-sized touch-screen system which makes the operation of many different features a very easy task. As well, the Journey offers customers the option of adding a rear back-up camera and the very useful Rear Park Assist System which makes the Journey very easy to manoeuvre when in reverse especially for those who park their vehicles in their garages.
Dodge Journey. Click image to enlarge
The Journey’s ride height makes it very easy to get in and out of, and whether you’re sitting in the front or the rear seats, you will find with the driver or passenger doors offer plenty of room making it less strenuous entering or exiting the Journey. The Journey also now comes standard with Dodges Keyless Enter and Go system which many people with disabilities will enjoy since it eliminates the need of having to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the doors. When you are within proximity all you have to do is pull on the door handle to unlock it.
The Journey provides a lot of cargo room, and with the rear liftgate open and out of the way, there is more than enough room to fit a small-sized mobility scooter or mobility device. While the 2011 Dodge Journey isn’t a good choice for those with disabilities who use full-sized wheel chairs or mobility scooters it is a great choice for those who have issues dealing with getting in and out of much lower vehicles.
2011 Scion xB
The first thing I noticed about the Scion xB was its unique exterior design which could only be described as boxy with a few rounded edges. Its design really helps to make it a vehicle that can be easily modified to suit the needs of a wide variety of people with disabilities including those who use manual wheelchairs. Though it’s a compact vehicle, its interior is large enough to be customized and made accessible from the side and even the rear of the vehicle. However, the xB is not going to appeal to those who use large-sized power wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
Scion xB. Click image to enlarge
I was impressed with the interior design of the xB and was surprised how easy it was to get in and out of the front and rear seats. One of the best features found in the Scion xB is its front seats which were comfortable and easily adjustable and don’t only recline but are also height adjustable allowing the driver and front seat passenger the option of setting their seats to a level that best suits their needs.
Its unique and original dash design helps to give the xB what could be described as a futuristic look. I particularly liked how the climate control dials are turned towards the driver which makes them fairly easy to use. The position of the stereo made it a bit of a reach to access the buttons but that problem is quickly solved thanks to the useful steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
There is plenty of useable cargo space and with the rear seat folded flat and the rear hatch opened the task of setting items such as a walker or mobility scooter in the rear of the 2011 Scion xB becomes a very simple task.
Though it’s no sports car, I found driving the xB to be mildly sporty. Though it’s designed to appeal to the young adult market, it’s a car that should appeal to all those living with disabilities as well.
2011 Nissan Rogue
Like the Mazda5, the Rogue will more than likely appeal to young buyers with disabilities who are looking for a vehicle that is fun to drive. The Rogue is a little on the small side but it has enough cargo space to carry a walker or a small-sized collapsible mobility scooter.
Nissan Rogue. Click image to enlarge
I found the step-in height made it a very easy vehicle to get in and out of. I liked the Intelligent Key system which completely eliminates the issue of having to take a key out of your pocket to unlock or start the vehicle.
Inside, everything is well with-in reach and the interior has a very sporty feel. The steering wheel mounted controls found in the Rogue are very easy to use and allow access to the Bluetooth hands-free phone feature and the sound system. Another feature is the steering wheel-mounted shifter paddles which allow for a little bit more fun behind the wheel when in manual shift mode. Sadly though, the CVT takes away a bit of the joy you might feel when behind the wheel, particularly on city streets.
Though the Rogue doesn`t offer much in the form of cargo space it does have a few key features that do help make it a great vehicle for people with disabilities.
2011 Nissan Quest
Nissan Quest. Click image to enlarge
The new, totally redesigned 2011 Nissan Quest is a major improvement over the last generation Quest and offers many great features that people with disabilities can benefit from. These include the available power lift gate and the very useful one-touch power side sliding doors. With the rear lift gate open and the rear seats folded down the 2011 Nissan Quest is fully capable of transporting large scale mobility devices such as power wheelchairs and scooters. With the rear liftgate opened I was amazed to see how large the opening is to the rear cargo area which is huge.
The interior of the Quest is quite impressive and features many of the same options as its competitors which many people with disabilities will find beneficial. This includes steering wheel-mounted controls, push-button start, rear seats that fold flat and even an optional back-up camera.
However, the new Quest suffers from a major design flaw which seemed to have been overlooked during its redesign. The issue concerns the placement of the front seats which are positioned a little too far into the interior making it a harder to climb up into the cabin when compared to its competitors.
2012 Honda Civic Coupe
Nissan Quest. Click image to enlarge
The 2012 Honda Civic Coupe is an amazing car for those with disabilities who require the use of a manual wheelchair. The first thing I noticed about the 2012 Civic was that the driver and front passenger doors opened at a 90-degree angle which really helps give users of manual wheelchairs easier access. Another plus is the Civic’s low ride height which makes it a lot easier to slide from your wheelchair into the driver’s seat. The whole process of taking apart or placing a manual wheelchair behind the front passenger seat is a very easy task especially in the 2012 Honda Civic Coupe. All you have to do is slide the front passenger seat all the way forward which helps to give you plenty of room to lift and place your wheel chair behind the front seat.
The interior of the new Civic is well laid out and easy to use and I actually really liked the two tier dash configuration which features digital display. The dash of the Civic now features a five-inch monitor which displays useful information to the driver which can be easily accessed thanks to the steering wheel-mounted controls.
My time spent behind the wheel of the new Civic was an enjoyable one: handling was great and when it came to acceleration it performed well. Now while the looks of the base 2012 Honda Civics aren’t what you would call sporty or ground-breaking, I think the new Civic is still a great looking car – it all depends on the colour you choose! The Dyno Blue Pearl colour of the Civic Sedan I was test driving really helped make the car stand out a bit better than the typical old grey or silver Civics we have all become use to seeing on our city streets.
I would suggest opting for the Honda Civic coupe since its door openings are a bit larger than the sedan’s and in the long run the coupe is a better choice since it offers buyers a bit more access to the interior of the car. In my opinion, this is the best car for people with disabilities who use manual wheel chairs.