By Christina Mills, CFILC's Deputy Director
No way. Really? Cars are being made accessible at the design level? That’s what I thought to myself when I heard that the new Toyota Sienna came with an accessible backseat right off the lot. Initially, it was difficult for me to imagine that a car company might actually be thinking about accessibility. Toyota calls it the "access seat" and they refer to it as a "dynamic personal assistant". Isn't that something? Toyota is talking about personal assistance just like we do in the world of Independent Living.
Many of you know that I drive a Honda Element and if you have been following my blog posts you also know that I came up with a pretty simple system to get my daughter in and out of my Element while in her car seat. That was 18 months ago. At that point she was a wee little thing and I could have tossed her into the car any old way. Times have changed and, 21 pounds later, our car loading and unloading system has changed a bit and it isn’t as easy as it used to be.
My daughter isn’t on her feet yet and what that means is that I’m still carrying and lifting her A LOT from my manual wheelchair! Putting her into the car and then into her toddler car seat is a slightly longer process. It works for us, but when I heard about the “access seat” in the new Toyota Sienna I got super excited. I made a call to the local dealer and went down to see it for myself. Needless to say, I took my daughter with me and tested it out to see if it would make our commuting lifestyle easier. Check out the video of our adventure below.
It makes sense that companies are coming up with ways to appeal to the ever-growing aging population. My guess is that Toyota was thinking about seniors and how challenging it can be to get up into an elevated vehicle seat. Therefore, they developed their own Toyota assistive technology in hopes of increasing sales to families who want to include their aging relatives on family outings. I'm not sure if they were thinking about a short stature, wheelchair user parent who could benefit from an “access seat” when putting a non-ambulatory toddler safely into her car seat.
The “access seat” works with the press of a button like almost everything these days. The van doors slide open and close with a push of a button. The trunk goes up and down with a push of a button and, of course, the alarm and windows open with a push of a button. I hear that some cars now start with a push of a button as well.
As you hold the button on the access seat, it turns to the side and faces the door. The frame of the seat then expands and this allows the seat to actually come out of the van and then lower until it is about two feet from the ground. It wouldn’t be ideal in bad weather, but, hey, we live in California and I don’t think we’re due to have an El Niño year till 2015, right?
The dealer who let us try it out was a good sport. Yes, he wanted to make a sale, and I was hoping to help him reach his quota, but the cost for the optional “access seat” is out of my price range. A fully accessible converted van with a dropped floor and ramp nearly costs the same. That is my only issue, but it’s a big one and a deal breaker for our family. However, if you can afford it, do it! The “access seat” is an awesome feature and makes it possible for people that have a hard time getting in and out of cars to get out and go somewhere.