At Paraquad, we are often asked how people with disabilities adapt and do things differently to accomplish everyday tasks independently or with assistance. The Lens of Ability hopes to answer those questions through firsthand accounts of people living with a disability.
This is Mike Anderson, Peer Group Services Coordinator at Paraquad. Because Mike is unable to use his feet to operate the vehicle pedals, he uses hand controls. He said that “learning how to drive again gave me back that independence that I was used to having. Being able to go and come as you please meant a lot to me and not having to depend on anyone was very important to me.”
First, Mike must transfer himself from his wheelchair into the vehicle.
Many manual wheelchairs fold up or come apart to make them easier to transport, which is what Mike does next. Some accessible vehicles have a ramp that folds down so that a person who uses a manual or power wheelchair can enter.
Other accessible vehicles are “missing” their driver’s seat so that someone with a power wheelchair can drive the chair up to the steering wheel. Vehicles with this feature often have a mechanism that locks the power chair in place so the driver is secure.
This is what hand controls look like.
The lever to the left of the steering wheel moves to operate the pedals. The driver pulls the lever down to give the vehicle gas and pushes the lever forward for the brake. Mike explained to me that some setups have a foot plate covering the pedals so that someone who experiences muscle spasms will not accidentally hit the pedals if they have a spasm behind the wheel. Most vehicles with hand controls can also still be operated by the foot pedals when they are exposed as they are in this vehicle.
Most vehicles that can be operated with hand controls also have a knob that is normally located just under Mike’s right hand. This vehicle is missing this feature, but the knob allows the driver to more easily turn the steering wheel with one hand while they operate the gas and brake pedals with the other.
It is important to note that not everyone with a physical disability is able to drive. There is a screening process that each person who wants to drive using hand controls goes through to ensure the person is able to operate the controls safely.
“Before I was injured, I was used to driving a different way. But after I got used to it, it’s simple,” Mike said.
Alyssa Schafer is the Consumer Directed Services (CDS) Timesheet Compliance Manager at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Alyssa Schafer/Ladybug Photography LLC