It’s easy to become stuck at home when you have a disability. Getting in and out of a car might be difficult, loading your wheelchair or gopher might be a problem, or driving safely could be hard to do. These are all barriers to one of the most important aspects of our lives; getting out of the house and into the community.
2020 has thrown us a few curveballs and its fair to say many of us have a different view of the world we live in these days.
More than ever, cleanliness is king; shaking hands, giving a hug or just touching a shared surface makes us think twice and reach for the hand sanitiser. Sure, the spread of bugs has always been a ‘thing’ – but COVID-19 has raised the bar.
When it comes to transport, some of us may no longer be comfortable taking Public Transport. Crowds and uncertain surfaces might cause us to think twice about making those all-important trips from home. It’s unfortunate, but the hangover from 2020 is set to last for some time yet.
So, if you don’t want to take public transport or use a shared vehicle any longer, you may consider having a vehicle modified to suit your needs. Your own wheels provides the convenience of a purpose-built vehicle designed for you. You can travel to your own schedule and have the comfort of knowing exactly who’s been in your car and where it’s been. And if you’ve ever needed an Access Taxi over Christmas or New Year you won’t know yourself when you can come and go as you please in your own transport.
And that’s where Brazier Mobility comes in. We're busy working on the mechanical, body rebuilding and electrical every day and for us, this is familiar territory. We'll work with you and your support people to come up with solutions aimed at getting you out and about. We look at what you need, the products available, and how these might integrate with the car you choose.
So, if you’re ready for your own modified wheels this blog will take you through the main types of modifications available, give some tips on selecting your modifier and, if you are an NDIS participant, take you through the most common process to have modifications approved.
There’s 3 Main Categories of Vehicle Modifications
Vehicle Modifications usually aim to help in one of three areas. Let’s go through each one and take a look at a few examples.
Task 1. Getting in and out of vehicles
Getting in and out of a vehicle is one of the greatest barriers to getting out of the house. Luckily there are a range of solutions to suit your needs, as well as your car.
Swivel and Lowering Seat Bases bring the passenger seat out of the car and into a position that makes it easier to get onto the seat. Once seated the chair raises and turns to bring the passenger into the car. The “Swivel” solution works best in cars that aren’t high off the ground whilst “Lowering” are designed for higher floored vehicles that have good sized open spaces when the doors are open.
Wheelchair Lifts bring passengers in chairs in and out of vehicles using an electro-hydraulic platform that raises and lowers. There needs to be enough headroom for passengers inside the vehicle which means they are often best suited for use in certain vans. Wheelchair lifts are most commonly mounted on the inside of the vehicle (inboard lifts) however there are also models that are mounted on the underside of the vehicle (underfloor cassettes).
Personal Lifts are a handy alternative to Lowering Swivel Seat Bases when transferring from a wheelchair isn’t possible. These lifters have a base that’s installed to the car footwell, as well as a removable electric lift unit to help bring your passenger in and out. Different sling sizes are available to accommodate a variety of passengers.
Task 2. Transporting your wheels
Wheelchairs and gophers can be bulky and heavy, and it’s important they are loaded to cars safely. Where and how you load them into your car depends on the size and style of both your wheels as well as your car.
Here’s just a few solutions to help pick up your wheels and take them with you when you travel.
Rooftop Wheelchair Hoists are great for picking up manual folding wheelchairs and storing them on your roof. If you are able to transfer from wheelchair to car seat, this simple solution requires little or no modification to your car. All you need is a set of roof racks to attach your hoist. Some can even run from your cigarette lighter plug so there’s no wiring necessary. Once the hoist is set up to match your chair you are free to go!
Wheelchair / Gopher Lifters are great when there’s heavier lifting involved. Think of
them as little electric cranes that pick up your wheels and stores them in your wagon or SUV’s cargo area. There are different models to match different load requirements too. If you are looking at one of these, you should talk with your vehicle modifier to find a model that can reach outside your car as well as fit both itself and your wheels into the back.
Automated Loaders literally reach around and pick up your manual wheelchair to stow it in the back of your wagon or SUV. Then, when you arrive at your destination, a simple press of the button opens your tailgate and your wheelchair is brought back near your door, ready for you to transfer. Available space and the shape of your car is critical here, so you need to be sure this device is suitable for your car, as well as your wheelchair.
3. Helping you drive
Being able to drive independently is the ultimate goal for many people with a disability. If you need help getting into the drivers’ seat, there’s technology to do that. And once you’re there, it’s now a matter of getting the right tools to help you operate the controls, steer, accelerate and brake. Can you get help choosing the right technologies? Yes, you can – and you should!
A Driver-trained Occupational Therapist can work with you to determine the best tools to help you drive. Often, they will have a car with various devices installed which allows you to try each one to find out what work for you. Whilst each state or territory will have different rules, most will require you to be assessed by a Driver-trained OT before you are allowed to drive.
So, what type of products are available to help you drive? Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones.
Hand Controls replace the need for using your legs and feet to brake or accelerate. They come in a range of configurations from fully mechanical units that work by rods, right through to fully electronic versions that plug directly into your car’s computer.
Electronic Park Brakes convert your lift-up style handbrake to a simple push of a button.
Left Foot Accelerator Pedals allow you to use your left foot for accelerating and braking. Some (like this one shown) can be electronically controlled whilst manual models simply ‘mirror’ the left foot action onto the car’s actual accelerator pedal. Both electronic and manual versions can quickly revert back to standard right foot operation if necessary so you can still share your car if you need.
Now you know roughly WHAT you want, it's time to work out WHO you'd like to do your work. Now sure? Read on!
Finding yourself a good vehicle modifier
NDIS has brought a whole range of new providers out of the woodwork There’s nothing wrong with new providers – so long as they have the knowledge and skills to help you with what you need.
A good modifier on your side is vital to you getting the right modifications for you.
In much the same way as a good doctor is important to your health, a good modifier will ‘diagnose’ your needs and use their knowledge to recommend a solution that works for you.
So how can you tell a quality vehicle modifier?
Listening is so important
When you first meet a modifier, are they listening to you and your needs? Are they asking lots of questions about you and what you’re looking to do? Are the suggestions they provide a reflection of the information you’ve given, or are they simply telling you what to do? If they don’t listen to what you want and explain how the solution meets your needs, then it’s time to find someone who will.
Check out their premises
Look at the place where the work is to be done. Is it a good size? Is it clean and well organised? Does it look like a real workshop?
Are they simply mechanics or are they also experienced in vehicle electronics, fabrication and body modifications? Do they have to outsource significant tasks? Remember, if your modifier needs outside help to complete your work, it’s going to take longer, and it could be harder to get help if a problem arises.
What brands do they carry and where do their products come from? There’s an old saying that “price is what you pay, but value is what you get”. This is so true, especially when you think about what might happen in the event of a sudden product failure. At Brazier Mobility we don't source products on price. They need to be fit-for-purpose, robust and reliable and that's why many of the products we use come from the USA or Europe.
Who certifies their work?
Ask about their certifying engineer? Do they have an internal engineer, or do they use an independent consultant? Having an engineer working outside the company is always preferred as they are more likely to make the hard decisions when they really need to.
The past can often predict the future
Look at the quality of their work and if you can, speak to past customers. Most will be happy to share their experiences – good or bad!
Now you’ve found your preferred modifier, and assuming you’re an NDIS participant, you can apply to NDIS to fund your modifications. How? Read on…
Requesting a modification through NDIS
If you’re with NDIS and vehicle modifications are part of your plan, NDIS may cover the reasonable costs of vehicle modifications, so long as you have your own vehicle and it meets the NDIS vehicle age, and condition criteria. If this is something you’re looking to do, here’s how most people would go about this:
Roughly work out what you need. As an example, if you need to drive to get to work you might mention you need hand controls for driving and a wheelchair loader to store your chair automatically. No need for intricate detail, just focus on the things you need at this stage.
Include the Vehicle Assistive Technology (AT) you need in your next NDIS plan and be sure to tie the need for transport into the goals you’ve listed in your plan. There’s no need for detailed costings at this stage although if you can provide a ballpark estimate of costs then this can help.
Wait until your plan review is complete and check to see if AT has been included in your plan. If it is, terrific! Move on to Step 4.
Now’s the time for you and your people to talk with your vehicle modifier. They’ll help you work out the best way of delivering your modifications that works for both you and your vehicle. Once you’ve mapped out the ‘how’, they will prepare the quote which you can submit for approval. Sometimes you may need more than one quote, especially if there’s higher costs involved. The quotes and any other supporting information you provide in your submission is vital, so be sure to go into detail.
Wait for a decision. Remember, NDIS doesn’t always approve everything you ask for. Sometimes they may need more information and sometimes you may be asked to consider an alternative solution that provides better value. But if your application is approved, well done. Go to Step 6.
The NDIS will usually notify the chosen vehicle modifier around the same time as your request is approved. All you need to do is contact that modifier and book time for your work to be done. Remember that sometimes components need to be sourced from around the world so there can be be delays. How quickly your modification is completed will also be determined by how busy the workshop is. Be patient if you can but remember, if you are asked to wait unreasonably long for a job then you have the right to request NDIS allocate the work to another provider who can do it faster for you.
When your wheels are ready, go out and enjoy the world!
Remember in Step 4 I mentioned that supporting information is vital to your NDIS applications? This is incredibly important. That’s because NDIS must always provide the best value solution for all participants. If, for example, you’re looking for a vehicle modification so you can travel 5km a month to attend a physiotherapy session you may not get approved because there are other better value solutions (such as Access Taxis) available. But if you need a vehicle for regular activities and you can show how other options have been considered and reasonably dismissed, you may have a case. A good supporting document will show how the requested modification is best for you and your goals. It should also discuss the alternative options you have considered to arrive at your requested solution. Remember, the better the information you provide, the easier (and by definition, faster) it is for your submissions to be considered.
There you have it. There are so many ways a vehicle modifier like Brazier Mobility can help get you out and about. All you need to do is ask.
I hope this helps.