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Mobility Vehicle Solutions

Art Aiello |
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Art Aiello is a writer and editor based in Waukesha, WI.

In addition to being ALS Awareness Month, which we wrote about a couple of weeks ago, May is also National Mobility Awareness Month. Sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), the organization said it — along with its more than 600 members — celebrates National Mobility Awareness Month every year as a way of raising awareness for all the different kinds of vehicles and related accessories designed to help transport those who have limited mobility.

The NMEDA reported on a 2004 Harris Poll sponsored by the National Organization on Disabilities (NOD) that revealed some interesting statistics about transportation among people with disabilities. According to the survey, just less than 33% of respondents with disabilities said that inadequate transportation was a problem. More than half of those said that it was in fact a major problem, with the severity of the issue rising in proportion to the severity of the disability.

Consider the number of ways mobility issues could impact your ability to use or be transported in a motor vehicle. Weakness or other physical limitations in your feet or legs — the same ones that require a walker or cane — could make it challenging to enter or operate the pedals of a car or van. If you require a wheelchair or motorized scooter to get around on a regular basis, you need a way to load and transport that equipment. If you are confined to a wheelchair, you will require special equipment to access, ride in or operate the vehicle.

Fortunately, the NMEDA said that there are many transportation options available designed specifically to alleviate a variety of mobility challenges.

Let’s begin with those who require a walker for assistance. If you have limited mobility of your right leg or foot, for example, vehicle accelerator pedals are available for use with your left foot, the NMEDA said. According to the association and related distributors of these products, these devices can be retrofitted on your vehicle and can later be removed should an unimpaired person need to operate the vehicle.

By comparison, those who have limited mobility of their left leg or foot have options that replace operation of left-side vehicle pedals. For example, if you own a vehicle with a manual transmission, hand-operated clutches are available so you don’t need to use your left leg to operate the clutch pedal. The left leg is also used to activate the vehicle’s parking brake in some models that have the brake lever on the floor. Again, if your left leg or foot is not up to the task, the NMEDA said that a parking brake extension lever that is hand operated is available.

Leg spasms might be one reason for a person to have mobility issues, and as such can make operating a motor vehicle a challenge. This is because the spasms could cause unplanned activation of either the brake or accelerator pedal. If this is a concern for you, you’re in luck, because hand controls are available that can operate the brake pedal, accelerator pedal or both, and are used in conjunction with a device called a pedal block. The NMEDA said that pedal blocks cover one or both pedals so that if you have leg spasms while you are driving, you won’t be able to depress those pedals accidentally.

Some people with limited mobility might find both legs or feet simply too weak to sufficiently operate the manual accelerator or brake pedals. In such cases, alternative systems are available. For example, the NMEDA said that low- or zero-effort controls are available that make it easier for those with limited leg strength to operate the accelerator or brake functions on their vehicle. Electronic Mobility Controls, Augusta, Maine — a member of the NMEDA — also offers hand-operated, electronic acceleration and braking controls that bypass the foot pedals altogether.

Finally, if you find yourself in a wheelchair without any use of your legs or if you require a scooter for everyday mobility, you face challenges accessing your vehicle as well as riding in or operating it. Thus, the first order of business will be to find a vehicle that can accommodate you in your wheelchair or scooter.

Many automobile manufacturers offer versions of their full-size vans and minivans designed to accommodate passengers and drivers in wheelchairs. According to the NMEDA, some things to consider when purchasing a van include door size, to ensure that you will have enough room to physically enter while seated in your wheelchair or scooter; headroom, which means making sure that the vehicle roof is high enough if you will be riding in your wheelchair; and overall vehicle body length to accommodate your scooter or wheelchair, lifts and other related equipment.

Speaking of which, lift systems are available to both get you into the vehicle and orient you properly, whether its as a passenger or driver. The NMEDA identified a number of varieties that are either hydraulic or electrical.      

Once inside your vehicle, there is the task of securing your scooter or wheelchair — especially if you will be sitting in it while the vehicle is in motion. Special restraints are available to secure them within the vehicle, and you can invest in other special seat belts or restraints to ensure your safety when riding in or operating the vehicle.

When choosing a lift or restraint system, make sure you account for how much assistance you can expect from a caregiver, as the systems vary in how much work you will have to do in operating them and how much assistance you will need.

The NMEDA website offers a wealth of information about the variety of mobility options that are available as well as how to choose them (they were my primary source in researching this article). Visit www.nmeda.com for more information, including a link to the Electronic Mobility Solutions website and other mobility equipment dealers. And to learn more about National Mobility Awareness Month — including how to win one of three wheelchair-accessible vehicles — visit www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com.

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