Ste Purse is an actor and disability campaigner who spent many years working with Motability in his role at a nationwide vehicle breakdown and recovery firm. In this new article, Ste tells us about the adaptations process and his first test drive in his brand new Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV).
My previous article ended with my new Volkswagen Shuttle ‘Drive From’ WAV being delivered from Lewis Reed to Jim Doran Hand Controls (JDHC) in Coventry for the stage 2 driving adaptations. I visited JDHC on 20th December 2021 to be measured up for the driving controls.
As I had no method of getting my powerchair to JDHC at this stage the main task was working out the false floor and foot pedals. I instantly felt like JDHC knew exactly what needed doing. I had previous experience with JDHC as they adapted my very first car in 1989, and then again in 1992, 1995 and 2004. The internal transfer WAV was a different beast altogether and I was a little anxious that it would all be possible as it was much bigger than any car I've ever driven. They were so confident that it was possible my fears soon evaporated. I was introduced to the 6-way electric driver’s seat which would transfer me from my powerchair to the driving position while inside the vehicle. The seat moved toward the driving position and the rake and reach of the steering wheel was adjusted to find a good position where I felt in control. They ensured I could see out of the mirrors and reach all the auxiliary controls such as wipers and indicators as well as the infotainment controls.
The next stage was to mark up where my feet were once I had found a comfortable driving position. Measurements were taken, positions were marked on the vehicle with a chinagraph pencil and photographs were taken. Following this I was measured for a back cushion similar to the one I had in my existing car. Once these tasks were completed there was a lot of discussion about various other points such as the position of the RAC call button, seatbelt anchor point and buckle, and a ratchet strap to secure my manual wheelchair. There was detailed consideration of the positioning of a bracket to lock my powerchair in place while driving and a grab handle on the back of the passenger seat to assist me transferring into the driving seat. JDHC advised me they would collect my powerchair from my home and bring it to their workshop so they could order and fit the locking mechanism which would be finalized on my second fitting.
On the 1st of February I returned for my final fitting and test drive. The removeable driving floor and pedals were in place and it felt good. The seatbelt was fine although I needed a bracket so I could reach it to put it on, and it was agreed that this would be fitted before delivery. The engineer also demonstrated how the adaptations could be removed so that my able-bodied wife could drive the WAV. It was a fantastic system, and it took only 20 -30 seconds to fully convert the driving controls between my setup and a standard setup for my wife. The next decision was the positioning of the floor bracket to secure the powerchair along with the lock release button. My powerchair was now at their workshop so I could place it in the right spot for transferring into the driver’s seat. From this point it was clear where to place the locking mechanism and the release button so I could unlock the mechanism to drive the powerchair off the vehicle at the end of a journey.
Finally, there was the test drive. This was the part I was really looking forward to, albeit with a few nerves! I was driven in my WAV to a quiet industrial estate and my driving adaptations were fitted. I did a couple of circuits of the industrial estate, and I was elated. It was really easy to drive. There was no doubt it was much bigger than my car and it handled quite differently, but the high up driving position and car-like driving manners were impressive. I was relieved, because I knew I could drive this and it was the vehicle I’ve always thought I needed. As I seemed to be at home behind the wheel of the WAV the engineer asked if I’d like to drive back to the workshop and I jumped at the chance! Negotiating traffic was fine, the driving position affords a fantastic view of the traffic and road position. I even managed to squeeze the WAV through the narrow doorway into the workshop!
After the successful test drive there were just a few final points such as informing me that the adaptations would be powder coated before delivery to match the interior colour scheme. I also asked for the driver’s airbag to be deactivated as I felt I was too close to the steering wheel for an airbag to deploy safely. Finally, I requested a sticker for the rear to ask people not to park close and block my access. Then we settled on a delivery date of 9th February. I drove away with a huge feeling of relief. The long process of getting a WAV and the knowledge that I could actually drive it was a huge weight off my shoulders. The 9th of February would be my Independence Day!
Previously: Ordering My Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle.