Several months ago, a newspaper featured a wheelchair rider who had a Maybach and a Mercedes SLR converted to his needs. The two cars cost approximately 800,000 Euro. At least one reader (a wheelchair rider) got terribly upset about such an expenditure and about the writer (also a wheelchair rider) of that report. Labeling the buyer as an “imbecile” and “idiot”, the reader argued that wheelchair riders shouldn’t be driving such cars and that such an activity was absurd and incomprehensible.
Many wheelchair riders complain that they are not treated like nondisabled people. These complaints are surely justified, at least in part. However, they are not justified if we believe that we have to behave differently than non-disabled people. Why should a wheelchair rider who can afford it and who enjoys it not drive top notch cars?
What would be the “suitable” car for a wheelchair rider? For example, for someone who wants to be able to put their wheelchair in the car without assistance devices? If the only objective is to get from point A to B, a two-door diesel compact car with automatic shift and manual operation will surely suffice. However, if physical disadvantages – which generally accompany a disability – are to be compensated, “extras” really are a concrete help.
As a rule of thumb: The less expensive a car, the less extras are included – and vice versa. But even the most expensive cars require costly extras to accommodate the car to the driver. Insurances participate to a certain degree and generally cover the amounts that the extras would have cost for a less expensive car. Time and again it can be observed that, among persons with the same disability, some find it easy to place their wheelchair into the car, while others find a storage assist indispensable.
Some prefer low-tech, manual operations, others insist on comfortable BRUHN technology, while still others want to rely exclusively on the gas ring. Some want the manual operation only on the left side, others only on the right side.
Some require a big chassis for their safety, many airbags, significant motor power, strong brakes as well as a fire extinguisher within reach at all times. For others, safety is completely secondary as they drive without fastening their seatbelts and or talk on the phone without a hands-free set. Some will not store anything bulkier than a folding wheelchair behind the passenger seat, while others have no problems with a solid frame.
There are wheelchair riders who climb easily into tall four-wheel drives, motor homes, vans or station wagons. Others insist on needing a “transporter” with a lot of storage room as well as a lifting platform or ramp. Still others don’t mind squeezing themselves into tiny sports cars that make the space offer of a Porsche look large. One woman wheelchair rider from the Kassel area drives a Mercedes CLK that has zero space behind the seats. The young woman therefore transports her wheelchair in the trunk, counting on good luck that passersby will help her. To get their attention she whistles, literally – hard to believe but true. Finally there are those who decry all of the above mentioned, proclaiming that Golf station wagons are the only thinkable option for wheelchair riders.
It is also interesting to observe that often relatively severely disabled tetraplegics store their wheelchairs on their own, while relatively mildly disabled paraplegics insist on using storage aids. So, what is the suitable car for a wheelchair rider? That question has to be answered by each wheelchair rider on their own, depending on their physical and financial possibilities, their approach to driving and their personal safety requirements.
After all, each to his own.