Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Car controls - consider your abilities

If you've driven before, think about how your disability has affected you. This should give you an idea of how it may affect your ability to drive in the future, and which controls you'll need to adapt.

If you haven't driven before, just sitting in a car seat and trying the various controls will give you an idea of what you can do and what you'll have to adapt.

Man using steering knob to driveIn any case, you're likely to need personalised advice from an expert to make sure you get the right solution. Adaptation companies and equipment suppliers will advise on their own equipment but for an independent and professional assessment you should go to an accredited Mobility Centre. They have expert knowledge and are independent - none of them has any interest in any particular company. They're also likely to have come across people with similar requirements to yours.

If you're in any doubt about whether you can drive, the Mobility Centre will carry out an assessment to see if you can, and find out what equipment may suit you. If you know you can drive, they'll help you decide what controls may suit you and allow you to get the feel of them before committing yourself. Some of the bigger centres have a range you can try out, either on a test rig or in a real vehicle. Assessments will generally cost from £50.

If you're a Motability customer, Motability may pay for an assessment at a Mobility Centre and manage the adaptation process under their Managed Adaptation Programme.

Adaptation companies use the assessment report to help them find the most suitable products for you. Be prepared for the recommendations to change - the car you choose may not be the one you tried when you were assessed and the equipment may be slightly different too. The converter will usually discuss any proposed changes with the Mobility Centre that carried out the assessment. Don't hesitate to voice your own opinions during all these discussions.

Tips from disabled drivers

For the first edition of this guide, we carried out a survey of disabled drivers. They told us that while they were the experts on their own abilities, they appreciated advice from those who knew about car controls. They were impressed with companies that discussed options fully and listened closely to what they had to say. Here are some of their tips:

  • 'Be honest - get an assessment at the level when you are at your least able - at the end of the day when you feel tired.'
  • 'Make sure it will be what you need for the period of time you will have the vehicle, or if your condition worsens.'
  • 'Make sure everyone listens to what you have to say and what you want, and not what they think you should have.'
  • 'See as many controls as you can.'
  • 'A chance to try things is important - Mobility Centre; Mobility Road Show... then personal needs and experience takes over - you know what suits you.'

Most drivers stressed that it was important to consider the other people who used their car. Although some family members without disabilities learnt to drive with adaptations, most in our survey did not. Make sure any adaptation doesn't make it difficult for other drivers to get into and out of the car and does not make driving difficult or uncomfortable for them.

Last updated: June 2012

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