Sunday, August 17, 2003

Alive and well

Wheelchair lift ups van rental

Debra Kendrick

When Jack Saulsbury was in a car accident five years ago, he thought after a few weeks that he'd been relatively lucky. There were injuries, of course, but they seemed to be working themselves out. Then, neuropathy developed in his feet - a numbness and loss of feeling - that began seriously inhibiting his mobility. Today, retired at 57 from work in electronics and receiving disability benefits, the Springfield Township man has found adaptations that add up to a full life with his wife, Linda.

"Walking around the house or from the house to the car I can manage," Saulsbury explains, "but for anything beyond that, I need my scooter." The motorized scooter, loaded with a power lift into the trunk of his car, has become his key to mobility and independence.

When traveling, the couple have the scooter loaded on the airplane, and have had only a few mishaps in its handling. Without the power lift, however, hoisting the 90-pound piece of equipment in and out of vehicles can be a challenge.

"Last Christmas we took a cruise," Linda Saulsbury recalls, "and everything was accessible. The ship was handicapped-accessible, all the tour buses had lifts, it was wonderful." Similarly, when the couple visited their daughter in San Diego, they found the city to be extremely accessible, right down to lifts on the trolleys. Planning another visit to San Diego this month, the couple thought they'd spare themselves the chore of lifting the scooter in and out of vehicles by renting a wheelchair lift-equipped van.

None of the mainstream car rental companies they called owned a lift-equipped van. Wheelchair Getaways, however, a company begun in 1994 specifically to address the needs of travelers using wheelchairs and scooters, could provide exactly what they needed in San Diego.

"What we couldn't understand is why the wheelchair-lift-equipped van would cost $791 for the week, and a minivan from Hertz or Budget (without a lift) was only $353," Linda said.

It seemed like a good question.

"First of all," explains Dennis Charvat, rental manager for an Ohio Wheelchair Getaways franchise, "each of our vans cost $17,000 or $18,000 more than a standard minivan." The other factor, however, is that although the company offers service in about 40 states, each franchise sets its own rates.

In Ohio, for example, to rent a wheelchair lift-equipped van for seven days would cost $553, including 700 free miles. To rent a non-equipped minivan from Budget in Ohio for seven days, the cost would be $417 with 1,000 free miles.

While travelers account for a good portion of the business done by Wheelchair Getaways, Charvat says that the majority of customers are renting a van for a one-time special occasion. Weddings, graduations, reunions, and other celebrations account for the majority of rentals - sometimes traveling only across town. For the family that doesn't own a lift-equipped vehicle, splurging to rent one can be the deciding factor in whether or not the entire family can attend.

The corporate headquarters for Wheelchair Getaways is in Versailles, Ky. Only two types of vans are available - full-size vans and "lowered floor" vans, and all are priced at the same rate within a given franchise.

Some vehicles are equipped with hand controls (to be driven by a person with a disability) but most are not. The company has franchises in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. While rates vary somewhat from state to state, Charvat believes that the differences in this part of the country are minimal.

As for the Saulsburys, the discrepancy in San Diego prices (from lift-equipped to one not equipped) was too great to swallow.

The couple opted to rent a standard minivan and, with the help of their daughter, are hoping to wrestle the scooter in and out of the vehicle manually.

For more information on Wheelchair Getaways, Inc., visit or call (800) 642-2042.

Contact Debra Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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