Vehicle accessibility and Spinal Cord Injury

A symbol showing a person with a broken spine.

Various vehicle adaptation solutions suitable for people with spinal cord injuries (tetraplegia, paraplegia).

The location and severity of your injury greatly affect how your adaptation will look. For example, Tetraplegic drivers often stay seated in their powerchair while driving. For paraplegic drivers, it's more common to first make a transfer to the car seat. Another important adaptation is providing support for limbs and pressure relief for the body in general.

Browse through the below examples to get an idea of what will work for you.

Hand controls

Having limited or no function in the legs means that the functions of the pedals must be moved to a set of hand controls. These can be in the form of floor mounted lever where push brakes and pull accelerates. It can also be a lever on the steering wheel. Additionally, many of the functions surrounding the steering wheel can be moved to the hand controls such as indicators, windscreen wash/wipe, beam, horn and cruise control.

One hand holding a steering wheel and the other on a gas/brak hand control lever.
Accelerator ring

The accelerator ring is mounted below the car’s original steering wheel and is used to control the accelerator pedal while the driver’s hands are on the wheel. The advantage is that both hands are on the steering wheel while accelerating and steering the vehicle.

Hands holding a steering wheel with a gas ring.

Armrests provide support and lightens the load when driving. It makes driving a more comfortable experience, particularly during long distances.

A car seat with armrests.
Extra light power steering

If it's hard to turn the steering wheel, it's possible to lighten the power steering, making the steering wheel require less force. Please note that light power steering is not available for all car models.

Two hands holding a steering wheel.
Vacuum-assisted braking

To reduce the force needed for braking it's possible to install braking assistance. This is suitable for drivers who find it difficult to press down the brake by foot or by hand when braking with a hand lever.

The tip of a shoe on a brake pedal.
Grip straps

Straps can be used to assist in reaching when closing doors. A strap between the driver’s door and the dashboard enables the driver to grab the strap and close the door from the driver’s seat. This works very well in 3-door cars. Closing the boot door while seated in a wheelchair can be done with the help of a strap attached between the floor and boot door.

Electric gear selector

An electrical manoeuvring system for people who find it hard to change gear. The button-operated function enables automatic gear changes. The control box can be positioned to suit the user.

Pedal guard

Installing a pedal guard eliminates the risk of the feet sliding under the pedals when driving using hand ​controls. This could happen if the feet move because of vibration or motion in the car or if the driver has a degree of spasticity. Getting a foot underneath the brake pedal for example, might result in not being able to apply the brake when needed.

A metal plate blocking access to a car's pedals.
Steering wheel spinner knob

When using only one hand on the steering wheel the driver can hold onto the knob with a firm grip and spin the steering wheel without ever letting go. Some spinners are designed to support the grip and even hold the wrist in place. Some spinners have a built-in remote to control functions. The benefit of this is that the driver can steer the car and handle the car’s primary electrical functions with the same hand.

One hand holding a steering wheel by the steering device.
Anatomically designed seats

An adaptable seat can provide pressure relief, good support and the ability to modify the seat position. A bucketed seat, for example, will be better at preventing the driver from slipping forward. A seat with an inflatable lumbar support can help alleviate back pain. The ability to modify the seat position reduces the risk of injury from sitting in one position for a long time. It can also improve blood circulation and reduce the risk of concentrated pressure on the seat bones.

Full view of a car seat with armrests.
Transfer board

Transfer boards are used to reduce the risk when transferring into and out of the car. These boards are permanently installed and folded out of the way when not needed. There are also semi-permanent boards that attach to a bracket in the car. Finally, there's the portable board. However, transferring to a fixed point greatly reduces the risk of falling, as it cannot slide away during transfer.

A car with a transfer board next to the front passenger seat.
Roof top box with wheelchair hoist

This solution will pick up and stow a folding frame wheelchair at the push of a button. Inside the roof top box, the wheelchair is protected from the elements during transport. It also keeps the car's interior free from any dirt and mud on the wheelchair. The roof top box can be fitted on most cars.

A man in the front seat of a car using a roof top box wheelchair hoist.
Wheelchair lifts

A wheelchair lift will lift a person seated in a manual or powered wheelchair into a high vehicle such as a minivan or an MPV. Inside the vehicle, the user can transfer using a 6-way base or stay seated using a wheelchair lock. Wheelchair lifts come in many shapes and ­sizes and fit in most high vehicles where there's room.

A deployed wheelchair lift in the side door of a van.
Head and neck protection

When driving or riding in a vehicle seated in a wheelchair it's important to have proper head and neck protection. These typically consist of a backrest and a headrest that is folded into place after the wheelchair user is in position.

A freestanding back and headrest for use with wheelchairs in cars.
Lowered floor vehicles

A lowered floor vehicle provides direct access to the driver’s area via an integrated ramp. These types of vehicles are often used by power wheelchair users who wish to stay seated in their wheelchairs while driving or riding. A button-operated wheelchair lock can be used to secure the wheelchair when driving. Don't forget that the user must wear a seat belt. If it's not possible to wear the original seat belt of the vehicle there are other occupant belts that meet the needed requirements.

A woman in a wheelchair and a walking man coming towards a van with an open rear door and a ramp.
Boot door opener

Boot door openers are ideal for those who find it difficult to open or close the boot or rear hatch. The opening/closing function is operated by a button or remote control. A pneumatic boot door opener has the benefit of allowing the boot door to be opened or closed manually, without increased resistance, by those with poor gripping ability or impaired mobility.

A retrofitted automatic boot door opener.
Control panel

For those who find it difficult to keep a grip on a handle, a button panel can be mounted near the driver for operating doors, hoist and ramp.

The dashboard of a car with retrofitted switches and buttons.

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