10 Things I Love About Our Wheelchair-accessible Van

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by Betty Vertin |

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I drive a massive, commercial-size, accessible, 12-passenger Dodge Promaster van with a high roof. And I love it for many reasons.

Our van was never — and is not now — my dream car. But just like Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), it is something I have learned to live with. It is part of a life I never planned for and did not expect. However, that doesn’t mean the van doesn’t come with advantages.

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Unless you have driven a vehicle as big as ours, you may wonder what I could appreciate about a car that looks more like a dishwasher repair van than a family vehicle. So following are 10 things I love about our van:

1. It has a name. That’s right, I feel like a vehicle as substantial as mine needs to have a name. After a lengthy debate, my family decided to call it “Beast.”

2. It fits this party of nine. It has room for a driver and passenger up front, and we have seating for four more in the back. In addition, there is room for three power wheelchairs. Honestly, we could fit four powerchairs but haven’t yet had the chance to test that out yet!

3. It is dependable. Thanks to the generosity of family, friends, and the Jett Foundation’s Giving Fund, we could purchase the van brand new, and it runs perfectly. We take it everywhere the boys go, from clinic appointments in Denver to school, and all the fun things as well.

4. If my kids, with or without DMD, learn to drive in the Beast, they can drive anything. That pretty much speaks for itself. Enough said.

5. I can stand up in it. I’m 6 feet tall and can stand up entirely in the back of the van. It makes using tie-downs a cinch. It also helps when I need to adjust one of the boys or just stretch my legs on long drives.

6. We can use the back of the van like a daycare center, as my children, especially those who don’t have DMD, play many outdoor sports.

Here in Nebraska, weather in the spring, summer, and fall entails just about everything. Wind, rain, heat, and cold are all expected at most times.

When the weather doesn’t cooperate with our younger kids or our guys in chairs, we can camp out in the Beast while waiting for a softball tournament or a track meet. We put blankets down. We get toys out. We have a cooler full of snacks. We can get the boys out of their chairs and put the baby down.

And perhaps this is TMI, but we even have handheld urinals so that we don’t have to make a run through bad weather to take the boys to the bathroom. Also, in that same respect, a urinal is often a better option than a port-a-potty, even if a rare, accessible port-a-potty is available. OK, enough about that.

7. We can move things without a truck. Once, I bought an old, gutted piano and turned it into a potting table. We took the van to pick it up. We lifted it on the ramp, pushed it straight into the back, and brought it home. So easy!

8. If you’ve read my column previously, you’ll know that we had a baby girl four months ago. I don’t have to fold her stroller to take it with me. I lift it in through the side door, put the brakes on, and it travels easily around town.

9. I can find it easily in a parking lot. It is almost always the tallest van in the parking lot. So I look for the most elevated vehicle and know instantly where my van is.

10. Everyone knows it’s us! It’s like the theme song from “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. Ours is the only van like this in town. Everyone knows it’s the Vertins — they’ll wave, honk, or stop by and come in just because they saw our van outside.

I’m stopping this list at 10 reasons, but there are so many more. Trust me, it has its downsides, like drive-thru car washes, and many drive-thru fast-food restaurants are out of the question.

And I now severely mistrust signs that say you need a 9-foot clearance to pass. I’ve made it through many of them. I hope that someday I won’t be writing a column about not ignoring 9-foot clearance signs!

wheelchair accessible van | Muscular Dystrophy News | The Vertin family van, known as the "Beast," in all its majesty

The Vertin family van, lovingly known as “Beast.” (Courtesy of Betty Vertin)


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.

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