There are certain freedoms that people take for granted every day. Simple things like driving to the park, going out to get groceries, or even going to see your doctor may seem like small and easy to complete tasks. However, for a wheelchair user these tasks become much more daunting. Many times, you must schedule time for others to come and drive you in your wheelchair accessible vehicle around to complete errands. For those who do not have a mobility vehicle, they must rely on unstable public transportation or expensive medical transport.
Luckily with the technology that exists in today's mobility industry, it is becoming easier and easier for wheelchair users to achieve the freedom of driving from their wheelchair. That task too can seem daunting to someone who is new to the market. It may be helpful before looking to get your certification and talk to a wheelchair van dealer, if you first know some of what you will need to get there. Here are the basic equipment and certifications you will need to drive from your wheelchair.
Before purchasing a vehicle or equipment, you will need to see a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist for an assessment and training. This will typically consist of a clinical assessment to determine what type of cognitive or physical impairments you are facing, as well as a driving assessment to determine what you will need. After the assessments you will be given a prescription, describing the adaptive equipment you will need for driving safely. This will typically be followed up by some additional training with the equipment, and eventually a road test with a State Evaluator to receive your license.
The most common vehicle for personal mobility transportation is a minivan, however, there are some side entry SUVs that will work as well. Whichever vehicle you decide to drive, you will need to ensure that it is a side entry conversion, as there are no rear entry configurations that will allow you to drive from your wheelchair. You will also want to ensure that the conversion is a “Full Length Cut” and has removable front seats, meaning that the floor is lowered from the 3rd row seats to the front firewall. Some budget conversions are only a partial cut, not allowing for the front seats to be removed and making it impossible to drive your chair into position.
Because the intent is for you to drive without a companion, you will need a way to tie-down your wheelchair and buckle your seatbelt for obvious safety reasons. The most common solution to this need is a power tie-down from either Q-Straint or EZ-Lock. This works by installing a bracket to the bottom of your wheelchair and a base in the position of the vehicle you would like to be locked into. When you drive over the docking base, the bracket on your wheelchair will latch into it and securely tie down your wheelchair, like how a fifth wheel trailer works. Then you buckle your seatbelt into a seat buckle extension attached to your tiedown track and you are safely secured in your vehicle.
Many wheelchair users will need to control the vehicle entirely with their hands, making acceleration and braking more complicated. Again, with the modern advancements in the mobility industry we have dozens of options for brake/acceleration hand controls. There are many companies making hand controls like: MPD, Veigel, and Sure Grip to name a few. These companies all make different models that will allow you to control the vehicle with either your right or left hands as well as manipulate the controls in different ways, overcoming many range of motion obstacles experienced in the past.
Some individuals may experience loss of strength in their upper body over time and find controlling the steering or braking of their vehicle to be quite difficult. That poses serious safety issues for them as well as others on the road. In the past this was a disqualifying factor when attempting to drive from your wheelchair. Today there are several companies offering solutions to this common problem. Although not available in all models of wheelchair accessible vehicles, there are many great solutions to this obstacle.
As everyone who has the need for these modifications has their own custom needs, the industry has found ways to adapt to almost all of them. There are simple gadgets that will allow for you to extend your keys, making it easier to turn the ignition, or buttons that make your turn signals and windshield wipers engage more easily. However, for individuals who have far more advanced needs, there are EMC (Electronic Mobility Controls) options that will allow for highly advanced modifications to be possible. New and more interesting conversion options come to the market every year, making what seemed impossible yesterday a reality today.
For more information about what the best first steps are, and more detailed information about this equipment, please reach out to your Local Mobility Dealer. They have knowledgeable mobility consultants ready to help you through this difficult task, and eager to see you living your life freely in an independent mobility vehicle. Thank you for choosing BLVD.com for your research and our team wishes you the best of luck.