A Brief Guide to Wheelchair Van Hand Controls

wheelchair van hand controls

One thing that we say quite a bit around here is that technology advances are making a difference each and every day. That is especially true for the disability community, as technology advances help individuals with disabilities lead more independent lives.

One technology advancement for wheelchair users over the past few decades is the ability for those with limited upper body mobility to drive their wheelchair van with the assistance of hand control technology. Hand controls bring a lot of freedom to wheelchair users, their caregivers and their families. In this brief guide, we will cover what hand controls are, how they are paired with other driving assistance features, and the benefits of hand controls for wheelchair users.

What Are Wheelchair Van Hand Controls?

Hand controls allow wheelchair users to control the vehicle without the use of a foot on the gas and brake pedals, and in some cases with assistance for the steering wheel. When paired with other options, hand controls become a full adaptive driving system. Typically, hand controls are installed just below the steering wheel and attach to the pedals. They control the primary vehicle functions of the gas and brake, but also secondary functions like blinkers and windshield wipers.

Hand controls vary by model, but many come in various configurations that allow a wheelchair user to find a style that works for their range of motion and strength. Popular configurations include right angle push, push rock, twist grip and push pull. Additionally, hand controls come in mechanical, pneumatic and electronic setups. For drivers who have limitations in upper body strength and mobility, an electronic or pneumatic setup may be necessary to use because they make it easier to use the gas and brake systems. This is often determined by prescription, but the wheelchair vans conversion team you select will be able to show you the options that can be custom fit for your needs. We also find that typically once a wheelchair user uses one type of hand controls, they rarely switch unless there is a change to their strength or mobility.

A Brief History of Wheelchair Van Hand Controls

Did you know that hand controls have been around for at least the past 50 plus years? In fact the first records of controls to operate a vehicle without the use of legs was in the early 1900s. The technology started in the garages of home inventors that had prosthetics and needed a way to drive a three pedal vehicle.

But technology took this a step further in the 1950s. During the 50s, we saw a rise of vehicle hand controls created by auto manufacturers, like Ford and General Motors, after WWII Veterans returned home with mobility disabilities. When the need for the adaptive driving equipment slowed down, auto manufacturers stopped producing this equipment.

That is where adaptive driving equipment manufacturers and wheelchair van conversion companies, like Rollx Vans, came into the picture. And, you could say, the rest is history.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wheelchair Van Hand Controls

Unlike standard vehicle features, hand controls are something that much of the able bodied community does not need to consider or know much about. For that reason, we do a lot of education on hand controls for wheelchair users, their families and their caregivers, especially if they are first time buyers of a wheelchair van that could potentially be driven by the wheelchair user. We expect a lot of questions through the selection process and have heard them all. So, we put together a short list of frequently asked questions about hand controls and our answers:

  • Do all vehicles on the market work with hand controls?
    All vehicles that have an automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes can have an adaptive driving system installed.
  • Do wheelchair users choose which type of hand control device they want to have installed (ie. mechanical, pneumatic and electronic)?
    If the wheelchair user that will be using hand controls has full hand and arm strength and range of motion, they can choose any hand control configuration they want.
  • Is there any special equipment needed for a wheelchair user to operate a vehicle with hand controls?
    A wheelchair user intending to be the vehicle’s driver will either have a transfer seat or a power tiedown to secure the wheelchair in the driver area. Many quadriplegic wheelchair users drive while staying in their wheelchair. The driver’s seat is removed and an automatic wheelchair tiedown is installed to secure the wheelchair. The existing three point lap and shoulder belt is modified to secure the driver into the wheelchair. A spinner knob is also often used along with hand controls.
  • Can the vehicle be driven without the hand controls? Is there anything that needs to be done to the steering column to implement a driver change?
    Most hand controls have a mechanical lock out that locks the use of the gas portion of the hand controls when using the foot accelerator. The electronic Featherlite hand control model automatically disables the foot accelerator when the hand controls are in use and disables the hand controls when the foot accelerator is being used. Both systems make it easy for the vehicle to be operated by either the wheelchair user or an able bodied driver without hassle.

Learn More and Get Started Today

We know there are a lot more questions to fully understand hand controls if you are new to them, and that is okay. Our team of experienced sales representatives know the options available on the market inside and out and can answer all of your questions seamlessly. If you come up with a question that stumps our sales team, you can be assured we will work directly with our on-site team of conversion specialists and engineers to get you an answer as quickly as possible.

Hand controls can be incredibly beneficial for wheelchair using drivers to get them back to mobility independence, and we know first-hand how life changing that can be. Contact our team today to learn more about the hand control options available on the market and you or your loved one can use them to get back on the open road.

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