How Is a Honda Modified for Wheelchair Access

Author : Jason Dion

Honda produces two different vehicles that can be converted for use as wheelchair accessible vehicles. The most popular is the award-winning Odyssey minivan. The other is the unique Honda Element, a small crossover with a unique design. Both vehicles are built with a general audience in mind. The Odyssey is marketed toward families in need of a spacious option and the Element has gained a cult following among those who find a small SUV to be an ideal part of an active lifestyle.

Let’s look at how these mass market vehicles are modified to provide optimal wheelchair access.

The Honda Odyssey

honda_odyssey_2005-fb08dcc3fcd405b8c66afe21086e045dThe Odyssey is one of the most popular minivans on the market. Its sleek design and car-like handling make it a favorite with families and wheelchair users alike. The Odyssey can be used in either rear-entry or side-entry wheelchair van configurations.

The rear-entry versions usually use a ramp, but external lifts may be installed, as well. The modification procedure for rear-entry Odysseys is similar to that used for the more popular side-entry variations.

Side-entry access involves multiple modifications, including:

Lowering the Odyssey’s Floor

By lowering the floor, it’s possible to achieve and extra ten inches of vertical clearance within the minivan. That’s important because wheelchair users have a higher profile while sitting in their chairs than do passengers sitting in a standard seat. That space is necessary to provide sufficient headroom. Some vehicles have their roofs raised to produce the extra space. That’s not a necessary Odyssey modification.

Installing Power Doors

Maximizing wheelchair access requires a consideration of whether the wheelchair user can successfully open the doors to the minivan. That’s worth thinking about because these vehicles are produced for a mass market audience. Wheelchair users often find the handles hard to use and may struggle with the bulk of the doors. That’s why powered sliding rear doors are a part of virtually all Odyssey conversions. They allow the wheelchair user to open and close the vehicle by pushing a simple button. Power sliding doors are available as a factory option on many Odysseys.

Installing an Auto Kneel

Getting in and out of a wheelchair van can be extremely difficult and dangerous if the deployment of the ramp results in a steep slope. An auto kneel system lowers the vehicle closer to the ground, affording a safer and easier slope. Auto kneels have become a common part of almost all Odyssey conversions.

Installing an Auto Ramp

Obviously, the ramp is a key component of the conversion process. There are many different ramps available, but most users opt for a powered auto ramp that will extend and retract automatically with the push of a button. This reduces the need for physical exertion on the part of the wheelchair user and empowers them to manage the vehicle without additional assistance. Some users may opt to reduce their expenses by using manual or spring-assisted alternatives.

Additional Modifications

The aforementioned core conversions aren’t enough to create a wheelchair accessible Odyssey wheelchair van. There are other factors to consider. The wheelchair must be restrained within the vehicle with tie downs or an EZ Lock system. Seating must be rearranged to meet user needs and modifications to vehicle controls may be in order, as well.

The Honda Element

honda_element_2007-a2118a1c157528eca81798e0b5e91216The Element wasn’t intended to be a wheelchair accessible vehicle. It’s a small crossover SUV that Honda aggressively marketed to adventurous types who needed a small all-purpose vehicle at a reasonable price point. Some of the unique design features of the Element make it possible to convert the vehicle for wheelchair van use.

The center-opening cargo van-style doors are one such feature. They were put in place to make it easier to load and unload gear, but when the “suicide doors” are splayed open, they provide enough space for a wheelchair ramp.

The Spartan interior and high profile of the vehicle give the Element a distinctive look. They also make it tall enough and spacious enough to serve as a wheelchair van with the right modifications.

Honda Elements exclusively function as a side-entry wheelchair vehicle. The most common modifications are lowering the floor and installing an auto kneel system, just as is done with Odyssey conversions. The aforementioned additional modifications including wheelchair restraint and control modifications are also similar.

There are major differences, though. It’s not possible to install power doors on the Element. Additionally, many users opt for a spring-assisted wheelchair ramp instead of a more expensive automatic version. That’s because anyone using the Element as a wheelchair vehicle either will have assistance or will be capable of managing the ramp, as evidenced by their ability to manage the manual doors.

The Element isn’t a traditional wheelchair vehicle, but it is an attractive option for those who don’t’ need a great deal of extra space and who appreciate the idea of a small, easy to handle, distinctive vehicle.

About the Author
Jason was a professional test-driver is his last life and is now a full time Nurse in Seattle, WA and follows the changing landscape of Disability Rights and Advocacy. He is keen to assist in developing useful disability information and advice from his real-life perspective working with people with disabilities. Jason is an automotive guru and covers a broad range of topics, including disability automotive, health conditions and lifestyle advice.