I was just chatting to my Carer tonight and saying how important it was for people who use an electric wheelchair to have a comfortable car to travel in and comfortable options within the car to make it work well. We need good transport options and real choice in what will allow us to be part of our community and enjoy participating within it. A modified car really is central to this transport conversation. Having my own car has changed my life and ability to be a participant in my community. The research that went into the modifying and fitting out of this vehicle took at least a year. I had trials of the equipment. I had trials of different vehicles and looked at different ways that they could be fitted out. I explored sitting position, went for drives in various cars that were modified by other people, to feel whether they were suitable – smooth or rough for my body. I spoke to people across Australia who had bought wheelchair accessible cars. I was assessed by OT’s and physios and also specialist transport and equipment OT ‘s as well. I had trials of seats and hoists in my garage and then started to research who may be able to fit what I decided on. I needed people who were flexible and willing to try new ideas. When I was quite sure I had made the right choices I had to take the plunge and order and hope it all fitted together and into my car. There were no proto types because it had to work for me and my body. Amazingly after all the research and time and team work it came together and works perfectly. If and when I have to upgrade I will try to replicate exactly what I did this time. It is not a fast process but it is definitely worth it.
It is so important to be able to see the view and to really be able to see what is happening around you. It is also important to have choices such as whether to sit in your chair and where to put your chair in the seating configuration. You should also have the option to stay in a regular car seat or modified car seat and put your chair in the back of the car. I have all of these option in my car and I love it and love the flexibility it gives me to travel. You also need space for equipment as well as luggage. I need to take my hoist, shower chair, wheelchair, bed equipment and luggage. I have a Kia Carnival and I absolutely love it. My conversion is different to most people’s car I have seen, as I have both the ramp at the back that was fitted by Kite Industries on the Gold Coast, as well as a front seat Turney with a Recaro racing seat on it that was fitted by Scott at Rebel mobility in Toowoomba. Both my options are amazing and when I arrive at my hotel to unpack my equipment people think I’m staying for three weeks not just three days! I take everything with me even my microwave! I love my transport now being flexible and living in a remote area like Toowoomba and having the option of great transport is incredibly important. I should also mention that my carers come with me and I usually have to take two. That means that the Kia Carnival is great for space and also for travel because it is smooth and if a person has to travel only a small distance they can choose to sit in the back in their own wheelchair that is safely tied down behind the driver. However if they need to travel longer distances and like me have highly unstable bones and spinal injury they can choose to travel in a front seat that they transfer to with their hoist.
I have taken some pictures of my car and the way I use it and will load some images and short videos to my Blog tomorrow night. I am interested in what others do and use as transport options. I used to use maxi taxies every day however staying seated in my chair in the back of a taxi was very rough and quite dangerous for my neck which is broken and highly unstable at level C4. My chair has great suspension and air support but it is still rough when you are riding in the back of a taxi or car. The comfort of this can not compare to the wraparound support that occurs when you can sit in a highly comfortable front seat with the electric controls that allow you to move your body position independently as you travel.
I have used all types of transport to travel across our country. Car, Bus, Train, Plane, Trams, Boats and Maxi Taxi, in all their varieties. I do however think that often it is assumed people with a disability especially someone who use an electric wheelchair will just be happy as long as they get there! This may be true sometimes however the journey should just be important as the arrival. I think we can really ensure that transport option are explored and made accessible and individualized for each person’s life needs. I love being able to see everything around me and enjoy every moment of my trip. I used to not be able to see what was happening around me and missed out on some amazing opportunities to take in landscape and activities that might never see again.