Mobility Aids: Privately-Owned Transport Cars and Wheelchairs

Community Member

Using a wheelchair, scooter or power chair enhances your mobility in and around the house. Suddenly you have control and you want to go further across town or across the country. You'll have to transport your wheelchair, too, either with public transportation or private transportation. Today, I am talking about cars used to drive both you and your wheelchair within the city and beyond.

It's funny how some people think. When I was first diagnosed with MS, friends and co-workers asked when I was going to get my van, as if there was no question. I drove a little sports car at the time and had no intention nor reason, as far as I could see, to need a van. I knew I didn't want one. I liked my little car and did not think my cane justified jumping from my small car to a large van. But with MS and time, things change.

Drive in Cars

Just because I cannot walk does not mean I cannot drive. Wheelchairs can go all kinds of places no one even imagined before.

Manual wheelchairs usually fold up and slip easily behind the seat. The easiest thing would be to just maneuver a power wheelchair right into the car and drive off. We see vans that have ramps, but what about cars? Yes, there are cars, small cars, that do just that. I once saw one where the wheelchair goes directly through the driver's door and still has room for a passenger.

There are plenty of pictures of a bright yellow car] with a back that opens up to reveal a ramp that allows a wheelchair to roll right in and drive off. This car is small, and I like small cars this one looks as if it simply surrounds the wheelchair and has no room for passengers. This little yellow car looks great for small towns or even suburb driving, but may not be practical for heavy traffic areas or highway driving.

Adapted Cars

I have depended on an Amigo scooter to give me mobility for the last 16 years. The day I bought my Amigo, I also chose to buy a lift to carry the scooter with me. The lift I chose was like a little ramp, permanently attached to the back of the car.

The first step for the lift was to add weight to the car to help with balance when the scooter was on it. I chose this lift because it was simple to use. I would drive the scooter on it, raise it up above street level, a bar lowered to lock down the scooter. I would get in the driver's seat and drive off with the scooter hugging the back of the car.

Other lifts are used to handle a broken-down scooter. The seat is removed, the driving shaft is lowered against the floor, and the lift helps put both heavy parts into the trunk. The scooter could be carried in or on the back of the car, but the car is not quite ready for a wheeler to drive. I did buy a car with an automatic transmission and power steering for the first time in my adult life.

That was easier, but it was not quite enough. As long as you can get from your chair to your car's front seat, things are fine. But we know MS progresses, and there may be a time when walking even while leaning on the car is not enough. If you need a lot of help, there are person hoists used to transfer from a wheelchair into the vehicle. Transferring directly from a chair to the inside of a car is awkward at best, but there is a solution for that problem, too. One is the swivel seat that can simply turn out, or can actually turn and reach outward. When you are on the seat, it can then automatically return to the interior and turn to its original forward position.

Usually a person uses a wheelchair because feet and legs do not work too well, which makes it difficult to press the accelerator and brake. Pedals can be switched to accommodate people who have a problem with one leg and not the other, and there are hand controls to release hand brakes or flip a pedal out of the way when not needed. To actually drive, I needed hand controls that reduced my effort, but effectively controlled the car. I have a small ball on the steering wheel so I can comfortably and effectively steer. Some hand controls are as simple as tubes that actually push the pedals when the driver pulls or pushes an aluminum tube bar near the steering wheel. Other controls allow steering with a joystick familiar to many game players. There is a separate, single handset to control lights, windshield wipers, and other secondary functions.

There are even hand controls for a car with manual transmission Almost anyone can drive any car, although lessons and patience may be required to learn the new equipment. I always found the hand accelerator allowed, or maybe encouraged, speeding, so be aware.

There are new cars and adaptations being developed all the time. If you want to drive, don't give up too quickly. There may be hope yet. There are even hand controls for a motorcycle! Is there no end?

Next, I will talk about adapted wheelchair accessible vans. It will close this series on mobility aids and hopefully open our eyes to new adaptions for the future.