This Electric Car Gets Wheelchair Users Behind The Wheel

Most roll-in wheelchair-accessible vehicles are designed to put a nondisabled person in the driver’s seat, but not the Kenguru, a unique electric vehicle set to roll out next year. It puts disabled drivers where they belong — behind the wheel, and in control of their own mobility. While they’re out and about, they’re also making sound environmental choices by using transit that’s ecologically friendly, with a car that can go up to 60 miles in a day. This is big news for disabled people, and for the electric vehicle market.

Wheelchair users interested in using a car to get around have essentially two options currently. They can use a specially modified vehicle with hand controls, which requires them to transfer into the driver’s seat and load up their chairs whenever they want to travel, or they can purchase a modified van which allows them to roll on while someone else does the driving. Both options have drawbacks. Powerchair users sometimes can’t easily drive modified cars, depending on the nature of their disabilities, and most cars can’t easily accept a powerchair because of the size and weight. Relying on someone else for transportation, on the other hand, puts disabled people at a disadvantage.

When you can’t drive yourself, you have to rely on public transport and paratransit, which aren’t always ideal. Public transit isn’t always reliable, and doesn’t always go where you need it to go. Paratransit can require long waiting times, and may run late and have other problems. Both make it difficult to accomplish tasks of daily living, let alone get out and socialize. The overall lack of transit options for disabled people can have a very isolating effect.

The Kenguru offers another option. This small electric vehicle allows a disabled driver to open the hatchback and wheel right inside, and it’s suitable for both manual and small powerchairs. Once behind the driver’s seat, people can head off at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, which allows them to handle errands around town and meet up with friends.

Originally conceived in Hungary, the Kenguru moved to Texas thanks to the efforts of a disabled attorney in the United States who convinced the car’s creator to relocate in order to get the idea off the ground. Thanks to her hard work, and that of investors, early models should start rolling out next year for delivery to those who preordered.

The initial sticker price is $25,000, but the actual cost to buyers may be lower thanks to a combination of environmental incentives and mobility subsidies — if people are using their cars for tasks like getting to the doctor and picking up medications, they can receive assistance with the purchase price from the government.

Getting behind the wheel can be lifechanging for some wheelchair users. It can mean the difference between pursuing higher education and being forced to stay at home; seeking a job and relying on government assistance; and living a full life or having a limited lifestyle.

With further developments, this roll-in car might just get better and better, which would be great news for the disability community.