What Type Of Car Adaptations Are Available?
Hundreds of disability adaptations are available for your vehicle, and they fall within three main categories:
- Driving adaptations to help you drive your vehicle.
- Adaptations that help you stow a wheelchair or scooter.
- Aids to help getting into and out of your vehicle.
With these so readily available, disability needn’t mean that you have to give-up motoring independence. Read on to learn more about the adaptations that can be fitted to your car or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV)…
What do we mean by ‘driving adaptations’? Think of these as changes to your car or WAV that make it easier and more comfortable to drive. Often, the UK Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will want you to fit some of these adaptations so you can drive safely. More than just nice-to-haves, such add-ons really can make a vehicle driveable where it wasn’t in its standard form.
Driving adaptations typically consist of changes that help with accelerator control, steering and braking. Depending on the severity of your disability, the modifications could be simple add-on aids (such as a steering wheel ball) or simply choosing a different manufacturer’s option or an optional extra (such as automatic transmission). Alternatively, they could involve something as complex as replacing the standard driving controls.
Will other drivers need to drive the car? Often the original controls (such as the standard accelerator when a left-foot accelerator pedal is fitted) remain in place so non-disabled drivers can also drive the car.
Let’s consider some of the common driving adaptations for upper and lower body disabilities.
Driving Adaptations - Upper Body Disabilities
A typical scenario in this case would be loss of, or reduced use of, an arm. If this applies, and depending on the severity of your disability, adaptations range from fingertip-accessible control of direction indicators to floor-mounted steering. Here are some of the adaptations that can be fitted by a specialist adaptation installer:
- A steering wheel ‘knob’ or ‘ball’ attached to the rim of the standard steering wheel.
- Repositioned or foot-operated controls for items such as indicators or the horn.
- A repositioned handbrake that is easier to reach.
- Soft-release manual handbrakes.
- Joystick or tiller steering in place of the standard steering wheel.
- Lightened power steering to make it feel lighter and easier to turn the steering wheel.
Driving Adaptations - Lower Body Disabilities
A similarly wide selection of adaptations is available for disabled drivers with lower body disabilities such as the loss of a leg or reduced mobility in one or both legs. Choosing an automatic gearbox is an obvious solution that makes driving much easier for so many people. Other examples of driving adaptations that help people with lower body disabilities include:
- Moving the accelerator to the left of the brake pedal (for right leg disability). The standard (right foot) accelerator is typically retained if you share the vehicle with a non-disabled driver.
- Hand-operated steering wheel accelerator and brake controls fitted behind or close to the standard steering wheel.
- Pedal extensions help people whose feet are unable to reach and safely operate the vehicle pedals.
Stowage Adaptations - Loading Wheelchairs And Mobility Scooters
We’re talking ‘stowage systems’ here. These are vehicle adaptations that help you load and stow your wheelchair, powered wheelchair, mobility scooter or other mobility device.
Plenty of choices are available. Lightweight wheelchairs are usually pretty easy to stow, others might require an elaborate two-way or four-way boot hoist. The latter are helpful with heavier wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
If you need to keep as much internal load-carrying capacity as possible, particularly in a smaller car, another alternative for a manual wheelchair is rooftop stowage. This consists of a roof box with an electric hoist to lift your wheelchair into position on the roof of the vehicle. The Braunability Chair Topper makes loading and transporting a wheelchair easy. It even mounts straight onto a standard roof rack, so there’s no need for permanent modifications to the car!
Access Adaptations - Help Getting Into And Out Of Your Vehicle
Loading a wheelchair or mobility scooter will transform motoring for many disabled people, especially drivers who want to retain their independence. For others, extra aids may be necessary when entering or leaving the vehicle.
These adaptations range across transfer plates (a simple adaptation that helps bridge the gap to the car seat), electric person hoists and electric swivel passenger and driver’s seats. Some versions of the latter even lower from the car for greater convenience.
What To Do Next?
With decades of experience and continuing product development, the choice of disability solutions for both drivers and passengers is enormous.
As ever, finding your best solution starts with careful consideration of your disability, your motoring needs (now and in the future) and the other mobility equipment that you use.
Armed with this information, a chat with a suitable mobility or adaptation specialist will mean you choose the right adaptations.
If you qualify, Motability is a another great starting point for your vehicle adaptation needs. Their website has an excellent section with information on disabled driver vehicle adaptations. The Motability Scheme offers around 500 adaptations, and many of these cost you little or nothing extra at the start of your vehicle lease. The website offers details on how adaptations can help you, the adaptations available on the Scheme, the price of adaptations and how to transfer adaptations between Scheme cars.
If you've never driven with a vehicle adaptation before, we'd suggest you look into booking an appointment at a local Driving Mobility assessment centre. Driving Mobility centres have qualified occupational therapists and driving instructors who can help you to work out which adaptations would best suit your particular needs.
Rest assured that there’s probably a suitable adaptation, or combination of adaptations, that will help you to drive or access a vehicle safely and comfortably. They could be vital to your future motoring independence.
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