Roger Keeney, who was blinded in 1990 in a farming incident and won a competition with Ford to drive a 2010 mustang, says, ” after you work through the problems … you realize that blindness is not a disability, it’s an inconvenience. And the top three inconveniences are transportation, transportation, transportation.”
In my last post we talked about getting back behind the wheel after a disability – whether it’s a possibility and what you can do to ensure you’re a safe driver. I think it’s important to highlight some of the amazing adaptive equipment that can be added to a vehicle to make driving accessible for people with many different types of disabilities.
Car adaptations cost money, as most need to be undertaken by a company specializing in disabled car adaptations. Many people find their current car won’t be appropriate for adaptation, and might have to buy another model. Many governments and support agencies offer funding to help offset costs.
People in wheelchairs usually need the most extensive adaptations in order to drive again. First of all, a driver in a wheelchair will need to get in and out of the car. This can usually be achieved with the use of transportable ramps, boards and lifting belts, but trucks and SUVs sit too high for a ramp to be effective. Sometimes the rear of a vehicle can be adapted to allow you to drive your chair inside.
If a driver no longer has use of their legs, hand operated braking and acceleration controls will be installed. If you have a weakened arm or you use an artificial arm, you can use special attachments on your steering wheel, as well as a foot-operated horn and indicators. In some situations, steering can be moved entirely to the feet.
Deaf people rely heavily on their vision when driving. As such, they learn from a young age not to sign to other people in the car, and to use their rear-view mirrors constantly. Many deaf people have additional mirrors installed, giving wider peripheral vision and allowing them access to their blind spot – these mirrors can be added by any trained mechanic.
Partially sighted people can also use extra mirrors to increase their peripheral vision. Many AMD sufferers used these mirrors along with bioptic lenses to continue to drive.
While the technology to allow people with severe vision loss to drive is still a long way off, experts are working to make this a reality. In 2009, Wesley Majerus became the first blind person to drive a vehicle that does not require sight. The vehicle was developed by Virginia Tech students, and uses voice command software, laser range finders and other sensory technology for navigation. The vest worn by the driver vibrates on one side when they need to slow down, and shakes all over when the driver needs to stop.
Any adaptations to a vehicle will require training and practice to get used to. You may need to spend months working with a driving rehabilitation instructor to learn how to use the equipment, and you should limit your driving to short distances for a few months before attempting a long-distance trip.
Whatever disability you have, the technology is fast catching up with your needs, and many people with serious disabilities can once again find themselves behind the wheel.
Check out these car adaption products on The Disabled Shop!
The Handy Bar: A strong simple device which allows you to easily slip in and out of your car.
Portable Swivel Seat: Swivels round to allow you easy access into and out of the car.
Lumber Support: For inside and outside the car!