Children with physical disabilities - getting in and out
A number of conditions can make it harder to get into and out of a car, from conditions affecting balance and coordination to those making it hard to move around. Children may need just a little support while getting in and out, or they may need to be physically lifted or hoisted.
Children who need a little help
Children who just need a little support might find a low stool helps them climb up into the car (however you need to be cautious on uneven or soft ground).
If they are getting themselves in and out, this will be easier with a lower seat - they won't have as far to climb.
Transferring from a wheelchair is easier if the seat is about the same height as the wheelchair.
A wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) allows a wheelchair user to travel in their chair. This means that they can get the benefit of their own supportive seating system, and that they don't have to transfer or be transferred into the car. A WAV also eliminates the need to lift the primary mobility equipment in and out of the vehicle.
If you're lifting a child into and out of the car, you may prefer a higher seat, as you won't have to bend down so far. Don't forget, though, that the child seat will add height, especially if it has high sides.
Wide and high door openings will also make this much easier. To search for cars with front passenger seats that have the right seat height and door measurements, use our Advanced car search.
Equipment to make getting in and out easier
Transfer boards bridge the gap between your wheelchair and the car seat - you slide sideways from your wheelchair along the transfer board and inside. The car seat needs to be the same height as the wheelchair. Technique for transferring should be discussed with a physiotherapist to ensure that it is the safest possible method as there is a risk of the board slipping off the seat or wheelchair if used incorrectly.
Transfer boards are usually varnished or polished to make them easier to slide along. Some are angled to help you move across awkward gaps. A more expensive type has a sliding section that you sit on.
Transfer/tip-up plates are fitted to the vehicle and can be static or powered. They bridge the gap over the door sill and work in a similar way to the transfer board described above, except they are a permanent fixture and provide a very stable transfer platform.
Swivelling seats turn to face out of the car. Basic swivel seats just turn through 90 degrees to face out of the car; they can be operated by hand or powered.
Other seats come right out over the sill. These lifting and lowering swivel seats also raise you to your feet, or lower you if you have a high vehicle or to help you into a wheelchair.
For more information and product overviews, see our page on Swivel seats.
With a wheelchair system, the car seat attaches to a special wheelchair base. The standard seats on these systems are not very supportive, so they won't be suitable for all children. There is a seat manufactured by Elap/Autoadapt – GS seat, which is adjustable and provides lateral supports and the option of a harness which is suitable for children and adults of short stature. The wheelchair bases are generally not suitable for travelling distances due to the weight of the seat, unless opting for a powered version. The powered version will be heavier to stow in a vehicle boot.
For more information and product overviews, see our page on Wheelchair systems.
Hoists are usually fitted to the car to help lift someone in and out. Hoists may not be suitable for all children. A child who's prone to spasms will be difficult to hoist safely, and the sling can cause damage to the skin through shearing. Some people have also told us that they find hoisting undignified and that it takes too long - especially when it's raining. The supporting person needs to be physically able to put the arms of the hoist together and apply the sling to the individual as well as dismantling the hoist arm after the transfer and stowing the parts in the vehicle boot.
For more information and product overviews, see our page on Hoists.
See also: our guide to Getting into and out of a car for more information and advice, including suggested techniques and details of products and suppliers.
Our research aims to help you choose the controls that will work best for you.
Last updated: June 2018