Mobility News

Being a good driver

During the winter when it’s dark, wet, windy and generally likely to be more challenging weather-wise, being a good driver is clearly an advantage.

So, how do we optimise our driving skills to try and keep driving as safe and enjoyable as possible. Obviously, managing our temperament is important. Being tolerant, calm and measured in potential tricky situations is a real bonus whereas anxiety, panic, or a short temper is unlikely to be helpful. Quick-thinking, on the other hand, is an asset.

Whilst many of us may not claim to be naturally tolerant and calm, to have the self-awareness necessary to recognise and try to overcome our bad habits and learn from our mistakes is part and parcel of being a good driver. As with most things, no matter how practiced or experienced we think we are, there is always something to learn.

Developing a courteous outlook towards other road users is a real advantage. Just like car drivers, other pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are entitled to be there, and all users have to share the road together. That’s where patience and tolerance is key to avoiding adverse or avoidable consequences.

More practically in terms of the actual process of driving the vehicle, smooth gear changes, smooth acceleration, smooth braking and controlled steering are all signs of good driving – both for the maintenance of the vehicle and the comfort of the passengers. Driving smoothly and in anticipation of other road users and pedestrians makes us better prepared to deal with any potentially hazardous situations ahead such as icy or wet surfaces, runaway balls or scared animals. By being aware and paying attention, we can act pre-emptively on the information around us to anticipate and avoid problems – rather than having to react to them.

Finally, common sense always has a role to play in being a good driver. Tiredness, distractions and apathy can lead to accidents, so a good driver tries to minimise the risks and knows how to mitigate them when they occur, for example by stopping for a rest or a drink sooner rather than later.

No matter when we passed our test, being a good driver is an ever-evolving skill that needs constant attention for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone on the road.

 

 

 

Assistive technology potential

With the constant advances in assistive technology, help providing the tools to build confidence, ease social situations and support people with disabilities in leading independent lives, is improving.

According to research, over 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning difficulty. This means that adults and children who have a learning disability, which may also be combined with a physical disability, often find it difficult to communicate with others and can take longer to develop or learn new skills.

Artificial intelligence or AI is basically machine learning which demonstrates at least some of the behaviours associated with humans such as planning, reasoning, learning and problem-solving.

There are a few examples of Artificial Intelligence (AI) being used to support people with learning difficulties, but the potential is great for those with more than one condition or diagnosis. AI can adapt to user’s needs, personalise experiences, adapt to their pace and explain things in more appropriate and accessible terms. And the direct feedback available from AI gives other people – for example family members or carers – clearer insight into what works best.

An example of this is how Virtual Reality (VR) can enable people with learning difficulties learn and practice social skills and behaviours in a secure virtual environment. In fact, MenCap have used VR to help people with disabilities to prepare for, and manage, the experience of going to a polling station. Through VR, inclusivity and accessibility can be promoted.

Though the Internet of Things (IoT) is as yet still in its relative infancy, it has enhanced assistive technology considerably – from shoes that vibrate in certain places to help those with visual impairment, to hearing aids paired with smoke detectors and baby alarms to alert the user – it has huge potential to significantly increase people’s ability to move independently.

As the technology matures – at an ever-increasing pace – the support available to individuals will increase to the benefit and understanding of everyone.

Improving manual wheelchair design

Using the arms to rotate the wheels of a wheelchair puts a great deal of strain on the body – yet this is the typical method of propulsion for manual wheelchair users.

This means that for many, the physical stress that hands and arms are subjected to when manoeuvring the wheelchair, the physical stress that hands and arms are subjected to when manoeuvring the wheelchair is a routine problem.

According to Dr. Claire Flemmer, a professor at Massey University, New Zealand,

“Manual wheelchairs require an inefficient push effort where the user grips either the wheel or a slightly smaller rim on the outside – called the pushrim – and propels the chair forward by pushing the rim until they are forced let go and repeat the action. This means only about 25% of the action actually contributes to the chair going forward. This method causes an imbalanced repetitive strain on the shoulders and wrists that can lead to chronic pain. The longer a person uses the manual wheelchair, the worse it gets.”

So, Flemmer and a team at the university have developed a wheelchair design in which the user’s hands push and pull on the pushrim, rather than just pushing forward, without having to grip it. As this propulsion method uses 100% of the total arm movement it minimises wrist and shoulder problems in addition to making travelling uphill easier.

Because the chair’s gearing system allows for this movement, the user can keep their hands on the pushrim in both a standard and a run mode. Run mode prevents the chair from rolling backwards on a slope and is intended for difficult terrain or long journeys. It uses a three-gear system similar to that of a bicycle with a high gear to be used for easier terrain and the low gear is for more difficult terrain or an uphill path.

In addition, Professor Margit Gföhler and the biomechanics and rehabilitation research team at TU Wien University, Vienna, developed a drive process that uses a hand gear propulsion system. Similarly concerned with the repetitive strain placed upon manual wheelchair users, they used a biomechanical computer to analyse the motion sequences of the upper body which ascertained that a mechanical drive system driven by two hand gears was more ergonomic and gave the best motion sequence.

The rear wheels are mounted on the wheelchair’s armrests and driven through a toothed belt using the hand gears. This is more suitable for everyday use indoors as it is a more compact design. The drive technology enabled the user to achieve the same speeds as a regular wheelchair but with a sizeable reduction in effort.
Though electric power wheelchair design and technology continues to develop, the ease of use and lightness of manual wheelchairs means that continued progress in their design supports users to continue benefitting from increased comfort and better manoeuvrability too.

Accessible Taxis

For a taxi to be considered wheelchair accessible, it should have a lift or ramp to assist the wheelchair user with getting into and out of the vehicle.

However, research has suggested that there may only be one wheelchair accessible taxi per 1000 people in close to around 80% of England’s local authorities – mainly concentrated in major urban areas. Additionally, in some local authorities, part or all of taxi fleets are not required to be wheelchair accessible.

Currently, the majority of UK taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) are standard saloon cars which, while accessible to the majority of the population, including wheelchair users who can transfer to the vehicle with the driver placing their wheelchair in the boot, they are not accessible for people who need to remain seated in their wheelchair for the journey.

London-style taxis and some people carriers have been adapted to be wheelchair accessible vehicles or WAVs which means that they can offer a taxi service to users who are unable to transfer from wheelchair to vehicle.

Though there are around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK (the equivalent of around 1 in 56 people) according to the research, London had 2.3 accessible taxis per thousand people but only 12 cities were found to have in excess of 1 accessible taxi per thousand people.

At the time of the research, Wakefield had only 0.1 accessible taxi per thousand people making it the least accessible city, while Liverpool faired best with almost 3 accessible taxis per hundred thousand people.

According to government guidelines, a vehicle can be designated accessible if it is possible for a client to “enter, leave and travel in the passenger compartment in safety and reasonable comfort whilst seated in their wheelchair…” However, not all wheelchairs allow this, so some wheelchair users find themselves still unable to access what is an accessible taxi.

Nevertheless, according to the research, the number of local authorities requiring part or all of a taxi fleet to be wheelchair accessible has risen, as has the number of authorities requiring disability awareness training for taxi drivers so there appears to be some progress made.

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) believes that taxi and PHV services should be fully accessible to disabled travellers and have set out a proposed framework for achieving such a service.

AR Robot helpers

With controls that use augmented reality technology, people would be able to operate robots to help them perform tasks – such as scratching or applying creams – for which support would be of benefit.

The PR2 ‘robotic body surrogate’ can manipulate objects such as electric shavers, hairbrushes, or picking up water bottles.

Around four fifths of participants in a study were able to operate a mouse curser to control the robot and use it to perform tasks. The research was intended to establish whether using robotic body surrogates could improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Dr Phillip Grice from the Georgia Institute of Technology said,

“Our results suggest that people can improve their quality of life using robotic body surrogates. We have taken the first step toward making it possible for someone to purchase an appropriate robot, have it in their home, and benefit from it.”

In the primary study, the participants used their own assistive equipment to operate a mouse curser, learning to operate the robot so that it could support them when performing their own care tasks.

Because the web-based interface (which functions through the internet) has been built around a simple single-button, users don’t need to have long, onerous training sessions and it would be accessible to many. For the user, the world is viewed from cameras positioned inside the robot’s ‘head’ so they can move it around their environment and control the robot’s arms and hands.

The next step is to reduce the size and cost of the robot to progress it further towards becoming commercially viable.

Tips for choosing an electric powerchair

Choosing an electric powerchair is a very personal choice and the ideal model for one person may not be suitable for another. Having said that, taking certain things into consideration whichever model you are interested in should help make the decision.

Technology changes very rapidly and so it’s worth finding out what technological features are available, and how you would use them. That way, you’ll be able to prioritise the features you consider to be necessary and those that would be a nice addition.

By thinking about your interests, you can look for powerchair features that enable them. For example, if you enjoy travel or being outdoors your powerchair should be equipped to get to the places you want to go. If you need to be able to negotiate lots of kerbs or more off-road terrain, not all powerchairs (or their batteries) perform the same so research is key.

Similarly, powerchairs will vary in build quality and durability. They can be an expensive investment and you don’t want to have ongoing or unexpected maintenance and repair costs.

You may also want to research whether any of the powerchairs on your shortlist can be customised (in addition to the usual customisation of the cushioning, seat size and length, footplate and armrest height and position) at the point of purchase or even retrofitted if you decide that it could be tailored even more specifically for you.

Consider how you will transport your powerchair. Will the one you are interested in fold up? How much space it will take up? How heavy is it and will it fit inside your wheelchair accessible vehicle? All of these factors may influence whether your final choice is portable, full-size or heavy-duty.

Storage is another important consideration. The ability to get close enough to a socket for charging is an essential requirement whether your powerchair will be stored in a garage or in the home.

And finally, the perfect powerchair will very quickly become less perfect if it’s not comfortable. And the longer your trip, the more comfortable it needs to be so try to test for at least 20 minutes if possible.

The choice of power wheelchairs on the market is wide but taking time to research and having a targeted approach should help you choose the best option for you and your lifestyle.

Help and Advice

If you are considering buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle, make Mobility Nationwide your first port of call for help and advice. For the majority of our customers, it is the first time they have bought a car with disabled access, and we are more than happy to offer friendly, no obligation guidance as to the different types of mobility cars available, and which might be suitable for your particular needs.

New Model Fiat Doblo

New into our stock of used wheelchair accessible vehicles is the new model Fiat Doblo. The upgraded model has all the roominess and generous headroom of the old model but with an improved, modern design.  The Doblo is the perfect mobility car for those who like the ease of driving and parking a smaller vehicle, combined with a comfortable space for the wheelchair passenger.

Spring has Sprung!

The spring rush has started and we are certainly living up to the ‘Nationwide’ in our name. This week we have home demonstrations of our disabled access vehicles in London, Northern Ireland, Lincolnshire, Edinburgh and Devon. We are always happy to bring our mobility cars to customers’ homes for a free, no obligation demonstration anywhere in the UK (highlands and islands excepted). Customers nationwide recognize our expertise and high quality of aftersales service.

Public and Private Transport for Wheelchair Users in 2016: What’s changed?

wheelchair accessible vehiclesAlthough there have been some promising developments recently in accessible transport, getting around by public transport with a wheelchair can still be a bit of a nightmare. We’re going to take a look at some of the options available to you both publicly and privately.

Taxis

While it is still compulsory for all minicabs and taxis to be wheelchair accessible inside London and in many other cities, there is a danger that cabs will be less numerous in future due to the rise of Uber. Uber cabs are for the most part non-wheelchair-accessible and are frequently cheaper than black cabs or pre-booked minicabs, meaning that you could be missing out on the discounted travel others are able to access.

If you are outside London, you can contact your council to find out if it is compulsory for taxis in your area to be wheelchair accessible.

Uber

As of October 2015, Uber has rolled out UberASSIST in London, designed to provide additional assistance for disabled riders or those with access needs. While the service is the same price as a normal Uber, the drivers will have completed a disability equality course and have a car that can accommodate folding wheelchairs, walkers and scooters. Unfortunately, as of yet this fleet doesn’t include wheelchair accessible vehicles so aren’t suitable for non-folding or motorised wheelchairs. There are more details on their website.

Buses

As well as having compulsory ramps and wheelchair spaces, over a third of full-size local buses nationwide are now low floor vehicles, rising to as high as 90% in London. These are probably one of the easier ways to travel around London, although bus stops aren’t always in convenient places. The charity Ricability has produced a free guide, Wheels within Wheels, on using public transport with a wheelchair.

Underground

Sadly, in the past year not that much has improved on the London Underground. Despite being one of the most important methods of transport in and around London, step-free access is still only available in less than a quarter of stations, leaving some lines (for example the central line) completely inaccessible. You can look at these guides for further information.

Trains

Overground, travel by train becomes a little easier. Although stations may not be that easy to enter and leave, there are many more nationally that are wheelchair accessible. If you are travelling by train you should notify the company you are travelling with as soon as possible (many online booking websites have a section to cover this) if you will need their assistance boarding and leaving the train. Once aboard, there are dedicated wheelchair spaces and staff should be on hand to assist if needed.

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

Despite recent advancements, owning a wheelchair accessible vehicle still provides the greatest level of flexibility. In inner-city areas, your blue badge will provide far greater flexibility of parking and allow you to access places you couldn’t easily reach by public transport. Despite black cabs now all being wheelchair accessible, they are not always available — and definitely not affordable! Two trips in a black cab could easily cost the amount of your weekly mobility allowance. Although there have been improvements in public transport, there’s still a long way to go before the UK’s public transport becomes truly accessible.

Explore your WAV options with Mobility Nationwide. Browse our current range of vehicles or give us a call on 01824 526061.