Modifications: Self-determined mobility thanks to accessible VW Bulli Bus
Modifications: Self-determined mobility thanks to accessible VW Bulli Bus
Whether it’s for their professional life or to travel – many people with disabilities need a car that provides mobility without limits. A small car is often unable to accommodate unique needs. That’s when you need a bigger vehicle – like a minivan.
In a long-standing family tradition, Michel Arriens and his girlfriend Franziska Stoldt are now travelling around the world in their VW Bulli bus – adapted to their individual needs.
Michel Arriens and Franziska Stoldt live together in Hamburg, Germany. Since the end of 2018, their VW Bulli bus is parked right outside their door – customized to fit their needs because both are of short stature, making it impossible for them to use a commercial VW bus.
"Initially, we contemplated various solutions and models and considered a VW Caddy bus (editor’s note: this specific car model is not available in the U.S)," says Arriens. "Yet time and again the solution either had no additional seat options or meant I had to put my scooter in the back of the car and then walk to the front to get in." However, Michel Arriens already lived with the latter option for several years with his previous car, a station wagon. For the new car, his main requirement was to be able to get into the car on the mobility scooter, since he specifically relies on it – among other things – to actually get safely inside the car. The idea was that this should also be easy to do in city traffic since Arriens is often out on business in major German cities.
Custom modifications for the highest level of accessibility
Arriens and Stoldt have chosen a cassette lift with a small platform. "It’s a so-called active cassette lift made by AMF-Bruns," explains André Lönnies from Mobilcentrum Lönnies, who made the modifications along with his team. "This system works via radio remote control, allowing wireless operation from the scooter."
That was just one of several modifications that had to be made. The driver’s seat is a swivel seat that can slide around in the car and pivot to meet Michel Arriens after he secures his device. To adjust the seat and make it shorter, the pair opted for custom seat cushions. "My cushion is two centimeters smaller than Michel’s," says Franziska Stoldt. "However, we noticed that we actually only need one cushion if we make some minor seat adjustments like sliding the backrest forwards or backwards. It also means we no longer have to change out cushions when we change drivers."
She remembers that it was actually far more difficult to find the right pedal system. "Ultimately, we chose pedal extensions that were modified and adapted," explains Lönnies. "We had several fittings and made custom adjustments until it was perfect for both of us." Aside from these modifications, there are also a steering aid, electric sliding doors and a power electric tailgate lift.
Michel Arriens found it particularly important that he could get into the vehicle directly with his aid – this scooter – and safely stow it there.
Minivan conversions in high demand
Many years of professional experience have taught Lönnies that several customers depend on a larger car, especially if they require extra space to move into the seat. "Whether it’s a Volkswagen or other car brand – minivans are very popular in this setting. They have always been in high demand for as long as I can remember," says Lönnies.
The Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWN) AG confirms the increasing demand for special and custom solutions. "Unique disabilities need custom mobility solutions, which Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles offers in close collaboration with special platform manufacturers," says Gerd Schmees, Key Account Manager, VWN Special Edition Sales Germany.
The company conducts frequent polls to identify customer needs and expectations. "The input, feedback and requests of our customers allow us to continuously improve our vehicles and offer the right mobility solutions in collaboration with special platform manufacturers now and in the future." The company knows that personal and especially self-determined mobility is an invaluable asset for people with disabilities.
Self-determined mobility – for professional use and travel
Franziska Stoldt and Michel Arriens wholeheartedly agree. Despite the fact that most big cities have excellent transportation systems, not all train or bus stations are accessible at this point. "That's why our car meets our need for greater mobility and accessibility," says Stoldt. "We know we can get from Point A to Point B by car and don’t have to worry about the conditions along the way." Michel Arriens adds, “This allows us to be mobile and self-sufficient. Ultimately, we have the same desire as any non-disabled person to move from one place to another without any barriers."
The VW bus also opened up new horizons for the couple when it comes to travel. Until now, it was quite difficult for them to book a hotel room spur of the moment. It usually required a lot of research in the run-up to the vacation. Generally, last minute hotel booking was never an option. However, on their first road trip through Denmark and Sweden in early April, the pair discovered a brand-new way of traveling: Get into the car and decide last minute where they will spend the night with the Bulli bus. A dream come true for both. "We spent two weeks on Denmark’s West Coast and the southern part of Sweden and were amazed by how easy it was to find accessible campgrounds," Stoldt remembers. The couple was surprised at how many campsites had accessible shower and bathroom accommodations. "That’s what made this a wonderful, accessible and relaxing vacation where we saw and experienced so much," adds Arriens.
It was very important to Michel Arriens and Franziska Stoldt that the lifting platform had as short a ramp as possible so that they could also cope well in city traffic. Michel Arriens is also on the road a lot in his job.
Thanks to their early positive experience with the Bulli bus and their new sense of freedom, Franziska Stoldt and Michel Arriens recommend that others consider a vehicle modification if it is a (financially) feasible option for them.
If you are like Michel Arriens and need a vehicle modification to support employment, you should apply for assistance with the responsible employment agency (editor’s note: refer to www.usa.gov for financial support options) to secure funding. There is more help to lighten the financial load than one would assume. Apart from that, you should generally read up on financial assistance and support services. Your contact could be your local Self-Determination Initiative or even a local car modification company. "They typically know where you can find funding sources," explains Arriens.
Having said that, applying for funds is not an easy process. You need to submit various documentation, expert opinions, and records. It may take a while from the time you apply until you get approved for funding. Still, the couple states, "We are so happy that we embarked on this arduous road, which allowed us to now have our own bus right outside our doorstep – our small accessible world, our piece of self-determination and improved quality of life."
Nadine Lormis (translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com