16/12/2020

Introducing Matilda | My Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle

I have been writing about my journey for The Motability Scheme website, however I have not been paid to speak about it on my blog, nor am I obligated to do so.

It feels like only yesterday that I was writing a blog post to introduce my powerchair, my new lease of life and independence. Never did I believe that almost 3 years later I would be sitting here introducing my adapted wheelchair accessible vehicle to you, the next step in my journey towards living my most independent life possible. The past 6 months have been an absolute whirlwind and receiving my car in time for Christmas has simply been the best present I could ever wish for. I am beyond excited to introduce Matilda to you today.  

Shona, a young white woman with long curly auburn hair, is sitting in a powerchair in front of a midsize wheelchair accessible vehicle. She is wearing dark blue jeans, black boots and a navy jumper with a rainbow on, she is also wearing glasses. The car is a dark navy colour, it is a VW Caddy.

I made the decision at the end of 2019 that I would start looking into getting an adapted car and learning to drive. 2019 was a rough year for me when it came to public transport accessibility, my train journeys were taking a lot longer due to broken lifts and I was sat waiting in the rain for an accessible taxi on far too many occasions, it was finally time to get a car. However, a pandemic hit and my plans were heavily delayed. I was ready and waiting for when the Motability Scheme reopened at the start of the Summer though.

A little background on the UK's Motability Scheme, it's a predominately a car leasing scheme, however you can get powerchairs and mobility scooters as well, and it works in conjunction with the Personal Independence Payment benefit. It allows you to exchange part of your PIP payment in return for an accessible vehicle that suits your needs. They offer a huge range of cars and driving controls and they assess you to help figure out what you need. The scheme covers just about all costs related to the car, meaning all you need to do is fill it up with fuel. 

A midsize wheelchair accessible vehicle has it's boot opened and ramp extended.


Just from knowing my own body I knew that driving a manual car with pedals was not going to work for me, I could probably drive a car this way for a few minutes but beyond that I just wouldn't be able to sustain the pressure needed. I also needed a wheelchair accessible vehicle with an automatic ramp so I can drive in with my powerchair independently. I knew that driving from my powerchair was an option but right now I have the ability to transfer and I just preferred the idea of driving from a standard car seat. All of my research and previous knowledge meant that I went into the process basically knowing exactly what I needed, an automatic wheelchair accessible vehicle with an automatic ramp, hand controls and an internal transfer aided by a powered seat. And that's exactly what I've ended up with!

Before all of this though I had to submit my grant application to the charity side of the Motability Scheme to cover the massive £26,000+ advance payment (adapted cars aren't cheap!), and thankfully they were able to provide a grant to cover the cost. I also had to have a driving assessment so I could try hand controls, this was the first time I'd ever driven a car and I absolutely loved it! I talk more about it in my second piece for the Motability Scheme but I absolutely loved being out on the roads and it turns out I'm a good driver as they let me drive back to the assessment centre on some trickier roads! 

Shona, a young white woman, is sitting in the driver's seat of a car using hand controls. Her ginger hair is tied back and she is wearing jeans, a black and white striped top and glasses. She is smiling.
At my driving assessment 

After that Sirus Automotive, the UK's leading provider of upfront wheelchair accessible vehicles, then brought a car to my home for me to take a look at and it ended up being absolutely perfect! I only applied to Motability in July 2020 but just months later we were already ordering me a car. The whole process was really sped up by the fact that Sirus had a car available that had already gone through the stage 1 adaptations, which is where they install the ramp and lowered floor, which sped up the timeline by months. From there the car headed to the stage 2 adaptations where my hand controls and powerchair lockdown system were fitted. I visited PB Conversions twice in this period for fittings, including installing the pin to my powerchair. I also had a little test drive of the car during the second visit and again, I loved driving it! And that brings us to this week, with my car being delivered on 15th December, just under 6 months on from when I first submitted my application!

Shona, a young white woman, is transferring from the driver's seat to her powerchair inside of a wheelchair accessible vehicle. She is wearing a face mask.
Shona, a young white woman, is sat in her powerchair inside a wheelchair accessible vehicle. She is wearing a face mask with her face turned away from the camera.
Trying out the VW Caddy for the first time

Matilda is a Volkswagen Caddy, making her the perfect size for my first car, with a driver's seat, passenger seat and space in the back to secure my powerchair. I can open the boot and extend the ramp by just pressing a button on my keys and then I drive in with my powerchair. There is an automatic lockdown system on the floor that I drive into and then a pin on the bottom of my wheelchair locks into it, securing my powerchair. This means I can do all this independently rather than strapping down my wheelchair at 4 points like in a taxi. 

Once my powerchair is secured I can transfer into the driver's seat. It's powered and can go forwards and backwards, up and down and turn around 45 degrees. This means I can independently and easily transfer into the drivers seat and get myself in a good position to drive. I also have the ability to be a passenger in the back in my powerchair though, which will come in handy as my Mum is also insured to drive it meaning I can start to get out and about straight away rather than having to wait to learn to drive!

Shona, a young white woman with long auburn curly hair, is in the driver's seat of a car with hand controls. She is wearing jeans, glasses and a navy jumper with a rainbow on. She is smiling.

As for my hand controls I have quite a simple set up comprised of a steering wheel ball with a lodgesons keypad and a push/pull control for my brake and accelerator. I will be steering with my left hand and doing the accelerating and braking with my right hand. The Lodgesons keypad sits on my steering wheel ball and has buttons for my indicators, lights, horn and front wipers and washers. It really is so cool how many different adaption options are out there! The good part is though that you can still drive the car with the pedals, you simply take the steering wheel ball off and you're good to go as the push/pull control is simply connected to the pedals on the floor rather than completely replacing them. There's a Reel over on my Instagram with some clips of me entering and exiting the vehicle and using the powered driver's seat.

Shona, a young white woman with long curly auburn hair, is sitting in her powerchair in front of her adapted car. She is wearing glasses and a navy jumper with a rainbow on. She is holding up her car keys and smiling.

I'm due to start driving lessons after Christmas, with my theory test being booked in for February. I am so eager to get started and go out on the roads! For now though Matilda will make a huge difference to my life already, there are so many places I can't go, so many things I can't do because they aren't easily accessible by public transport. I've missed out on a lot of time spent with my nephew as all his favourite places like the farm are only accessible by car and now I can finally join my family on these trips. And, once I've learnt to drive I can wave goodbye to the 3-4 hour journey via bus, train and tube to get to my girlfriend's house, instead swapping it for a lovely 1 hour 30 minute drive! The world truly is my oyster! 

As always, life changing is an understatement. A whole new world of opportunities is open to me now!

2 comments:

  1. Oh Wow, congratulations. I'm a bit jealous. When I first became disabled the thing I missed most was being able to drive. I was the only one in the family with a driving licence. I did get a car with hand adaptions and although I found it pretty easy to drive again I had to have help to put my wheelchair in the boot and get me in and out of the car....We used to get some funny looks in the car park when the person in the wheelchair (me) was helped into the driving seat. But then my husband took his driving test and I gave up driving. Matilda is amazing and I'm sure you'll really enjoy your independence when you are on the road yourself. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you can still get out and about in your car now your husband drives! x

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