Motormouth:- Wheels for the disabled

Wheels for the disabled

According to the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), taxis transport approximately 15 million commuters daily. But although seven-and-a-half percent of South Africa’s population is regarded as disabled in one form or another, many cannot use this vital mode of transport. They therefore find it difficult to gain meaningful employment, access education opportunities or participate in the economy.

While Government and the Department of Transport are working, through the Public Transport Strategy and Action Plan of 2007, on improving public mobility for people with disabilities, minibus taxis and busses remain ill-equipped. As a result, they aren’t user-friendly; especially for those in wheelchairs.
“Public transport facilities simply cannot accommodate people in wheelchairs,” says Olivea Louw, General Manager of Nazareth House, a home providing refuge to orphaned and abandoned children, terminally ill and destitute adults, as well as the elderly. “We invested considerable resources into buying two wheelchair-equipped vehicles because we cannot rely on public transport like busses or taxis,” she adds.
Louw feels particularly strongly about this after a physically disabled former colleague was hijacked and left stranded by the roadside while driving to work. Determined to get there, she tried to catch a bus but was bluntly refused because the driver said he could not accommodate her wheelchair.
It’s simple economics unfortunately: Mainstream taxi owners aren’t willing to sacrifice seating for up to four fare-paying passengers (per chair space), times possibly eight or ten runs a day – in order to facilitate one disabled commuter’s daily return journeys. Further, drivers already under pressure to cram in more trips aren’t motivated to spend time folding and stowing chairs or assisting disabled passengers.

motormouth-chair-loading-print

Nissan SA, in conjunction with Advanced Vehicle Engineering of Cape Town, is offering a possible solution that could interest entrepreneurs who are willing to think laterally.
Responding to an approach by the Department of Health, the companies developed a unique conversion for Nissan’s Impendulo minibus. Designed in consultation with medical professionals, it includes an electrically powered lift with ramp; a non-slip and chemical-resistant aluminium floor fitted with clamping facilities; rear-facing chairs for up to four other passengers and folding jump seats for care givers.

The special flooring is fitted into the rear passenger section but leaves the cab area standard. It allows wheelchairs to be restrained in various positions while its low profile enables maximum head room. Unlike most other minibusses, seats in the Nissan NV350 Impendulo are easily removed, or turned to face rearward, so wheelchairs can fit comfortably inside.
A compact and versatile Fiorella Slim Fit F360 EX Twister Extended hydraulic lift, optimised for medium sized vehicles, is particularly suited to handle modern electric wheelchairs because it’s wide enough to accommodate them. It offers excellent lifting capability in a compact, versatile, ergonomic and reliable design while its “twister” function permits easy access to passengers. After use it folds back into the vehicle; with its ramp across the back door where it acts a safety barrier.
Conversions offer a range of options for wheelchair- and seated passengers. Subject to floor space, they can accommodate up to three restrained wheelchairs and four rear-facing passenger seats. These are fitted with three-point inertia reel belts. Then, depending on the chosen configuration, as many as four Tip and Twist jump seats, deployed only as needed, can be added too.
Each wheelchair is secured with four belts that clamp into retractors in the floor. Providing full restraint for both wheelchair and passenger, straps extend from the rear retractors to a lap belt and then on to the passenger’s shoulder harness. Clamping is flexible and secure to ensure optimum safety.
Impendulo’s class-leading OEM mass ratings make it an ideal platform for this conversion as it minimises chances of overloading. Further, the adapted vehicle has been homologated – meaning it meets regulatory standards and specifications including safety and technical requirements.

Possibilities embrace solutions for hotel fleets, homes for the aged, inter-hospital transportation, private use and frail care; while other candidate vehicles include Toyota Quantum, Hyundai H1 and Volkswagen Kombi or Caddy. The main determining factor is whether there is sufficient head room for a passenger seated in a wheelchair.
Guide prices range from R172 332 for single-chair conversions to R332 737 (incl. VAT) for three chairs. Further information may be obtained from, or orders placed with, Nissan dealers, Nissan SA or Advanced Vehicle Engineering on info@advancedvehicleeng.co.za
Text by Gordon Hall
Pics by Nissan SA