Promoting career self-determination with adaptive utility work machines
Promoting career self-determination with adaptive utility work machines
Mobility is a key ability to live a self-determined life. It pertains to both the private and the professional realm: Agriculture, logistics, public service – none of them are possible without automobility. But who converts commercial vehicles to make them accessible for people with disabilities? And who pays for the costs? REHACARE.com looked into the matter.
Living a self-determined life also means being able to pursue one's profession with a disability. If this requires large machines, these can be adapted.
Most people know thatcars can be converted to be made accessible for people with disabilities and customized to meet the needs of the user. This is already part of the daily routine of companies that specialize in vehicle conversions of both cars with combustion engines and with electric motors, says Frank Sodermanns, Managing Director of F. Sodermanns Automobile GmbH: "The conversions [for electric motors] are similar and sometimes even identical to the modifications we have been making to vehicles with internal combustion engines for over 25 years." Even though electric mobility is still a relatively new industry sector, the conversion specialists are fully equipped to make the respective adaptations to meet the accessibility needs of their customers. But where are we heading when it comes to electromobility? We asked the experts at AMF-Bruns GmbH & Co. KG, Sodermanns and PARAVAN GmbH about the state of electric mobility, learned about the development of these types of vehicles and discovered the possibilities of autonomous driving.
Apart from cars, the conversion companies are also often tasked with adapting other types of vehicles to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Some are for private use, while others are for business purposes. After all, tilling and plowing a field without a tractor is virtually impossible today. A human being would also be hard-pressed to replace the lifting capacity of a forklift. For many professions, there are simply no alternatives for commercial vehicles. So, what should people with a disability do if their job requires mobility and certain vehicles? No problem: Just like cars, commercial vehicles like riding lawn mowers, quadrunners, tractors, or wheel loaders can also be converted. Delivery services and trucking companies frequently ask Sodermanns to convert their vehicles to accommodate people with disabilities.
It doesn't always have to be very large devices: Smaller utility machines such as lawn mowers can also be adapted to a disability.
Wheel loaders, tractors, large trucks – nothing too big for customization
The requirements for adaptive utility work machines rarely differ much from the ones conventional cars must meet. Basically, users must be able to get in and out and need adaptive steering and control equipment to suit their needs. As with cars, there are many approaches to adapt the machines to the respective disability: "Conversion measures such as easier entry options, pedal conversions or special digital driving and steering systems like our Space Drive System facilitate a multitude of unique solutions," explains Daniel Weber from PARAVAN.
It may take up to half a year to complete the commercial vehicle conversion, says Weber. A project is fully completed during this time – starting with the intake meeting and needs assessment, through TÜV reports and benefit determination all the way to the finished vehicle. However, there are no limits to the creativity of the conversion experts. Everyone – whether private or commercial user – gets their money's worth. To find inspiration, check out the Instagram pages of PARAVAN and Sodermanns. Nothing is impossible for these vehicle conversion experts.
The cost of inclusion
And speaking of costs: who actually pays for the conversion? The employer or the employee? People with a disability who are self-employed can apply for funding at the office of their respective welfare authority. The process is somewhat easier for those who are employed: "For employers who hire employees with disabilities, the conversion costs can be fully paid for, while the company can also apply for funding for the basic vehicle and employee wages," Frank Sodermanns explains. Both Sodermanns and PARAVAN are happy to help their customers locate the applicable funding agency. To find a general overview, PARAVAN has provided a FAQ-list with first information about responsible service providers and funding agencies.
Both employer and employee (unfortunately) have one thing in common: the time it takes to receive funding. As with every application, it can take a while before the responsible agency grants cost approval. Long waiting times are par for the course. But it's all worth it in the end once the converted vehicle is available and promotes more self-determination for the users.
Once work vehicles have been converted, they can (usually) be used by all employees – that, too, is inclusion.
Here is another incentive for employers who might hesitate to follow through: once a vehicle has been converted, it can (generally) be used by all employees – whether they have a disability or not, proving that inclusion does not harm anyone, but moves society as a whole forward. People with disabilities offer enormous potential for economic growth. Something employers should also take advantage of. For companies, hiring people with disabilities "means the highest level of inclusion. If you have a job, you feel taken seriously and appreciated," says Frank Sodermanns. Earning your own money and not depending on others can boost your mind, body, and spirit.
This encouragement is especially needed when employees must first adjust to a new situation that occurs later in life, as is the case with mobility impairments resulting from a stroke, for example. It is crucial to facilitate labor force participation for these employees as quickly as possible. Daniel Weber points out that a job in this case builds both financial and emotional security. "Some people have been working in their career for 20 or 30 years and customized mobility solutions make it possible for them to stay active in their field."
No challenge too great
Occasionally, the conversion experts work on other objects besides utility work machines or cars. Sodermanns is headquartered in Wassenberg, a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The region is famous for its carnival celebrations. So, it comes as no surprise that the company’s most unusual conversion was also linked to the so-called "fifth season" in Germany: "Apart from vintage cars or wheelchair swings, one of our most emotional highlights was a converted carnival float that accommodated multiple wheelchair users. The entire setup was accessible, starting with the candy cannon to the wheelchair accessible bathroom aboard the float," Frank Sodermanns remembers.
All conversions – whether they pertain to cars, utility work machines or recreational vehicles – have one thing in common: the owners and drivers are grateful to be mobile (again). Oftentimes, there are tears of joy on both sides once everyone sees the finished project. Daniel Weber adds that "helping a person with a disability to be mobile again continues to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling for the entire team at PARAVAN and for me personally as a mobility consultant."
Kyra Molinari (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com