These solutions provide a new level of freedom for people who have difficulty transferring into a vehicle. No more loading of heavy power wheelchairs. It is only an option in vehicles with a flat floor and with adequate internal height to accommodate a person sitting in their wheelchair. The person accesses the vehicle via a ramp or lift while sitting in their wheelchair, and either remains in their wheelchair and drive from the wheelchair, or they transfer onto a swivel seat which swivels 90˚. Click here for more info on swivel seats.
In South Africa the driving from a wheelchair conversion is limited to the larger Mini Vans and Kombis that have adequate internal height as it is not yet possible to lower a floor all the way to the driver’s seat in the smaller vehicles. Internationally however, this is a very popular conversion and it is commonly done on smaller vehicles such as the VW Caddy, Renault Kangoo, Fiat Cubo, Chrysler Voyager, Kia Sedona, etc.
This conversion typically involves cutting and lowering the floor to create more internal space, adding an electric lift which opens to the side or rear of the vehicle, and these vehicles are usually fitted with a lowering suspension in order to reduce the length of ramp that is required.
It is possible to import a fully adapted vehicle through Easy Drive Western Cape (0824524639)and Cape Mobility (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the conversion can be done locally according to your needs, but local conversions are limited to the larger Mini Vans and Kombis. It is an expensive conversion, but it gives independence and freedom, and it helps reduce long-term shoulder damage associated with normal vehicle transfers.
DRIVE FROM THE WHEELCHAIR
The driver’s seat is removed, and the driver remains in their wheelchair and moves into the driving position where the wheelchair is secured via a docking station.
When selecting a vehicle it is important to measure the internal height and door openings to ensure that there is enough headroom for the driver while they are sitting in their wheelchair. There must also be adequate space in the foot well so that the driver’s feet and footplates can fit under the steering wheel while still getting close enough to the steering wheel to drive. The vehicle must have a flat floor.
Modifications that may be required include:
- Adding a ramp or lift (some imported vehicles have hydraulic suspension to lower the vehicle when loading to reduce the required ramp length.)
- Removing the driver’s seat and fitting a docking station to secure the wheelchair while driving.
- Adding a seat belt receptor either to the floor of the vehicle or to the wheelchair (a long as the wheelchair is securely docked.)
- Addition of hand controls according to the driver’s needs.
- Lowering of the floor in case the roof is too high.
- Enhancing the power steering if the driver has limited strength in their arms.
- The steering wheel may need to be extended and raised.
- Removing rear seats to give space to manoeuvre the wheelchair.
- Fitting a matching docking station to the passenger side of the vehicle which attaches to a seat, which allows for the seat to be interchanged between either the driver or passenger side. This allows the wheelchair driver to take a break from driving and makes it quickly and easily possible to adjust the vehicle to be driven by an able body person by moving the seat to the driver’s side.
SELECTING A WHEELCHAIR TO DRIVE FROM
When driving from the wheelchair, it is essential that the wheelchair that is used must provide enough head and trunk support for the driver and must be strong enough to accommodate the docking station attachment. (Go to docking stations) Manual wheelchairs and folding power wheelchairs are not suitable for this purpose.
Rigid frame power wheelchairs are most popular for driving due to safety features and the weight of the docking station attachment. It is essential that the driver is stable in their wheelchair and therefore if the individual has limited balance it is recommended that they add lateral support for their trunk to get more stability. It is useful to have electronic positioning adjustments on the wheelchair, such height and tilt adjustments on the seat to assist the driver in achieving the optimal position in relation to the steering wheel, and elevating and lowering the footrests in order to find the best position in relation to the pedals. It is extremely important that the chair has a head rest to prevent whiplash in the case of someone running into the back of you.
Shonaquip have a clip on head rest that can fit most wheelchairs that provides some support.
It is possible to have a swivel head and backrest which can swing into place behind the wheelchair once the driver is in position. This does depend on the amount of space available in the vehicle and the size of the B pillar.
The CARONY DRIVE wheelchair is specially designed for driving from the wheelchair as the wheelchair seat is able to lower to 37cms, and the footrests automatically move forward to create space under the steering wheel. It also has a dedicated docking station for secure driving. It is designed to fit onto the Carosafe docking station.
The Permobile wheelchairs have also been crash tested and have a variety of docking stations that have been designed to give maximum ease of use as well as safety when it comes to driving from the wheelchair.
The Netti range of wheelchairs available from Sitwell have all been crash tested and have built in tie down points, for use with restraint systems.
The Otto Bock B50 is crash tested and has suitable adjustability for driving.
Manual wheelchairs are not recommended to be used for driving. The frames are designed to be lightweight performance frames and are therefore not built with the strength required to secure the wheelchair and occupant in the event of an accident. In order to connect to the docking station, a reinforced attachment needs to be fitted to the bottom of the wheelchair. This adds extra weight to a lightweight performance chair and will therefore the compromise the pushing performance of the wheelchair.
Most performance manual wheelchairs have a low backrest to allow free range of movement of the shoulders when pushing. This leaves the upper body, head and neck without any support. A sudden stop or acceleration or even a minor accident can result in whiplash if there is not support. In some vehicles it is possible to fit a swivel head and back support which swings into positon once the wheelchair has been docked into positon. Without this additional support it is extremely unsafe to drive, or even be transported, in a wheelchair with a low backrest.