Peripherals are the components that make it possible for drivers with disabilities to ride in and operate adaptive vehicles. Downsizing, consolidations and ever-changing business models mean more and more European-made peripherals are being installed and distributed by mobility equipment dealers in the United States. The perfect example is the BraunAbility corporate group, which includes Autoadapt, Bruno, Unwin, Permobil and Foca-Braun, as well as other brands.
The availability of so many different types of accessories and features may seem confusing, but it’s easier than ever for potential customers to pair themselves with the best product. Mobility equipment dealers are trained to evaluate needs and recommend solutions that work best, and thanks to the internet, everyone can shop around.
Wheelchair lifts remain the most common method of entry into full-sized vans for drivers or passengers who use mobility devices. BraunAbility recently introduced a new lift, the BraunAbility A-Series cassette lift, as an international public-use wheelchair lift. At 287 pounds, Braun claims it’s the lightest lift on the market that can do a stable lift of 770 pounds. All Terrain Conversions makes another lift for pickups and SUVs [see April 2018 Motorvation] that offers locking mechanisms that allow it to raise, swivel and secure a driver or passenger from a ground level wheelchair to a seated position in the vehicle.
More common are access ramps for minivans that come in several configurations, depending on the style of vehicle and the needs of the user. Ramps are available in under-vehicle models, in-floor or folding styles, manual or powered. BraunAbility says the ramp on its BraunAbility Pacifica is wider and stronger than others available. AMF Bruns offers a line of adjustable aluminum ramps that deploy from the rear or side of a vehicle. The company also offers power and manual side steps for people with some, but limited, mobility who may not be able to step higher up into a vehicle.
For wheelchair users who might need assistance pushing their chairs up the incline of a ramp, Q’Straint has an updated product to assist with loading called the Inqline Loader. The winching device can be used on side or rear-entry ramp vehicles to help pull the wheelchair up the ramp safely, with the operator using the directional “steering” capabilities of the Inqline.
For drivers or passengers who are able to transfer into a vehicle’s standard seating, but still need to load and unload their mobility devices, there are a variety of lifts and rear-mounted carriers available for loading and hauling wheelchairs in vans, sedans or pickup trucks. One option for loading, stowing and hauling wheelchairs is the former BraunAbility Chair Topper. Production was moved to Sweden, where Autoadapt updated the design under the name Autoadapt Chair Topper. A redesigned carrying case mounted on the roof of the vehicle houses a mechanism that loads and stows the wheelchair for travel at the touch of a remote control. With less interior space in many newer vehicles, the Chair Topper lets you avoid disassembling and reassembling a wheelchair when you enter a vehicle.
Autoadapt has also launched an all-new Carony transfer wheelchair that, for the moment, is only available in Europe; this wheelchair allows the user to transfer to the car seat without any lifting. The company will soon launch an app that allows swivel seat users to use their smart phone as a hand control for their swivel seat.
Adapt Solutions, a Canadian company, offers several products to assist with transferring into a vehicle. There’s the Power-Pull that pulls a wheelchair up the incline of a ramp; powered seat bases that swing the vehicle seat out to theside and lower it to the desired level for transferring from a wheelchair; and the Speedy-Lift device for loading an empty wheelchair into the back seat of a vehicle.
Q’Straint has developed a wireless remote release the size of a key fob for its QLK- 150 docking system that eliminates the need to reach to the dashboard to release a wheelchair from the floor-mounted docking device. The similar EZ Lock Wheelchair Docking System has been on the market for 30 years, and the company continues to design and manufacture custom brackets to fit the latest models of wheelchairs so tiedown bolts can be securely attached to the chairs.
AMF Bruns offers a full line of securement devices. Its Protektor system provides stabilization for occupants or passengers in wheelchairs in the event of a collision. It claims the design prohibits any wheelchair from being improperly secured. Its FutureSafe head and backrest is adaptable to a variety of in-vehicle positions, with an integrated certified shoulder belt.
As discussed in the last column, the requirement for all vehicle manufacturers to install knee bolster air bags beneath the steering wheel area is proving challenging in many types of new vehicles. According to some hand control installers, the new electronic Suregrip Featherlite requires minimal space for routing because the brake rod is tucked out of the way, offering a work-around for dealing with the knee bolster airbag problem. Other options exist as well.
Maine-based Electronic Mobility Controls continues to offer its AEVIT 2.0 “drive by wire” technology that accommodates inputs from a broad variety of sources and can eliminate the need for hand control brake rods.
Kempf-USA continues to update its Darios digital accelerator ring, and main hand brake for a broad variety of vehicle types — from small Chevrolets to an Aston Martin. The steering wheel and dashboard of each new vehicle is measured in 3-D, and specific parts are designed for that particular model.
Guidosimplex USA offers a similar line of hand control options, including accelerator rings that mount above or below the steering wheel and electronic accelerators that can be programmed for sensitivity depending on the traffic situation. Guidosimplex is distributed in the U.S. and Canada by MPS Driving Aids, which also offers its own line of reliable hand controls.
There are options for drivers who cannot use a steering wheel as well. Driving Specialties is still building the Scott Driving System on a Chrysler minivan base. The Scott system allows drivers to rest their arms in a steering yoke that also operates the throttle and brakes with minimal effort, similar to the movement of a wheelchair joystick, while an adjacent touchpad gives him the ability to operate all auxiliary controls. The company works with evaluators nationwide, builds vans in Los Angeles and ships them throughout the country.
The Impact of Self-Driving Cars
While still in the early stages of development and acceptance on public streets, vehicles that drive themselves could have huge benefits for drivers who are unable to use their hands or feet. The age of autonomous driving may soon move beyond the testing stages to become available in all types of vehicles.
In the meantime, vehicle manufacturers are devising new ways to meet customers’ needs. A shift to electronic steering and braking assistance in newer vehicles reduces the need for supplementary systems like power assistance for steering and braking used by many drivers who have diminished arm strength or dexterity. Other exciting trends include:
• Electronic ignition, which eliminates the dangers of dropping a key while fumbling to start a vehicle after dark.
• Backup cameras, soon to be required on all new vehicles, reduce the need for mirrors mounted on the upper rear corners of many full-sized vans.
• Lane proximity warning devices reduce the risk of accidents and are becoming more common.
• A hands-free and feet-free driving system, which may be publicly available sooner than you’d think. See the January Motorvation for more on the Arrow Electronics system used by quad race driver Sam Schmidt.
• Adapt Solutions, 866/641-0419; adaptsolutions.ca/products
• AMF Bruns America, 877/506-3770; amfbrunsamerica.com
• ATC, 855/324-3085; atconversions.com
• AutoAdapt, autoadapt.com
• Bever Car Products, bevercarproducts.nl/en
• B&D Independence, 618/262-7117; bdindependence.com
• BraunAbility, 800/488-0359; braunability.com
• Bruno, 800/454-4355; bruno.com
• Carospeed Menox, autoadapt.com/en/ products/independent-driving/carospeed-menox
• EMC/AEVIT, 207/512-8009; emc-digi.com
• EZ Lock, 888/952-5625; ezlock.net
• GuidoSimplexUSA, mpsdrivingaids.com/guidosimplex-us
• Kempf, 888/453-6738; kempf-usa.com
• MPS, 800/243-4051; mpsdrivingaids. com/mps-products
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Assn, 866/948-8341; nmeda.com
• Q’Straint, 800/987-9987; qstraint.com
• Scott Driving System, 818/782-6793; drivingsystems.com
• Sure Grip, 888/370-5050; suregrip-hvl.com
• Unwin, unwinsafety.com/new-unwin-products
• Veigel North America, 800/488-7688; veigel-na.com
• Wells-Engberg, performancemobility. com/hand-controls/wells-engberg