Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Saturday, 6 June 2009 13:39 UK

Roadshow reveals disability aids

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News

Innovative devices designed to give disabled people greater freedom and independence are on display at the Mobility Roadshow at Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire.

They include technology that delivers a wheelchair from the boot of a vehicle to the driver's door in 25 seconds, a vehicle conversion that allows a wheelchair user to drive from their chair or swap over to the front passenger's side, a simulator to test adaptations and a robot winch to lift disabled pilots into the cockpit of a light aircraft.

Express delivery
Photo of the Abi-Loader
The Abi-Loader stores the wheelchair in the boot rather than on the roof

The Abi-Loader device - from Hertfordshire-based Steering Developments - can be used to deliver a folding or fixed-frame wheelchair to the driver's or passenger's door from the rear of the vehicle.

The company says the Abi-Loader is designed to be used with estate cars, MPVs and some hatchbacks.

"What we like about it is that if you can open your door, you can load or unload your wheelchair because it takes up no more width at the side of the vehicle than that," said Neale Boulton of Steering Developments.

The wheelchair can be released from or attached to the Abi-Loader using a simple locking mechanism.

People wishing to use it will need to have sufficient upper-body strength to operate the locking catch and - if using a folding wheelchair - be able to unfold it and transfer in and out of their vehicle.

At just under £6,000 it costs almost twice as much as an automated "top-loader" which stores a wheelchair on the roof of the car.

But the company says not having a box on the roof will improve fuel economy.

The Abi-Loader has not yet been approved by Motability but Steering Developments expects that it soon will be.

The device is similar to an Israeli product already on the market which is controlled by a computer.

Mr Boulton says the Abi-Loader has "less to go wrong".

Take a break

Photo of the Switch accessible vehicle
The wheelchair user can drive or sit on the passenger side

A wheelchair conversion of the Fiat Qubo that allows people to choose whether to drive from their wheelchair or to sit in the front passenger position was shown off by Sirus Automotive.

The Switch has a completely flat floor pan and a quick release system on the front seat so that a disabled person can easily take a break and allow someone accompanying them to do the driving.

The Qubo's six-speed automatic gearbox is operated by push buttons, the ramp and tailgate are automated and the handbrake is operated electronically.

Sirus says that - at just under £22,000 - the Switch is considerably cheaper than other "drive from wheelchair" vehicles.

On the same stand at the show was the U-Can, a VW Caddy conversion that allows a wheelchair passenger to sit "up front" with the driver.

Again, access is from the rear of the vehicle using a fully automated ramp and tailgate.

Virtual reality

Photo of the driving simulator
The driving simulator allows various adaptations to be tried

Knowing just which adaptation is going to be suitable for a driver's particular impairment can now be determined using a new driving simulator.

Autoadapt's Driver Test Station simulates the driving environment and measures a person's strength, mobility and reaction time.

The simulator can be equipped with various adaptations to find out whether or not they are suitable.

It can be used from its own swivel car seat or from a wheelchair

Autoadapt says that the simulator can be used for assessments at mobility centres and as an educational tool in the rehabilitation process.


photo of the ERGOS lift in front of an aeroplane
The ERGOS lift is operated by remote control

The British Disabled Flying Association (BDFA) has teamed up with a company called Smartlift which has developed a hoist to get someone from a wheelchair into the cockpit of a small plane.

The ERGOS hoist was originally developed to lift extremely heavy or "bariatric" patients.

It is able to lift pilots weighing up to 125kg (20 stone) without any additional assistance.

It is operated by remote control, so that even if a pilot is alone, they can move the device out of the way before taxiing.

BDFA chairman, Simon Rapkin, has described the ERGOS as, "an amazing piece of equipment".

"It is very simple to use, very safe and stable - we're delighted to be able to offer trial flights and flight training to people who otherwise not be able to get into an aircraft," he said.

The Mobility Roadshow is at Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire from Thursday June 4 to Saturday June 6.

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