Thursday, November 7, 2013

Electric mobility vehicles make life easier for handicapped

By Allen Penticoff
There was an evening not long ago that I was heading home from Loves Park toward New Milford. Often, the route home is down Sixth Street after exiting North Second Street. Coming through the “S” of the merge, there was a young man pushing a large woman in an electric wheelchair with all his might. They looked to be in need of more than a simple push. I assume she had been on some trip in her little electric wheelchair and had run out of electricity in that rather awful spot.

I could not help them that day. The real need was to load up the woman and her dead wheelchair in a large vehicle and take them where they needed to go — a mission not suited to the Honda Civic I was driving. It was a route she probably should not have been on — and, as Murphy’s Law always dictates, she took a short cut — and that’s where her batteries ran out, in the worst possible spot.
Sadly, I see many people “driving” their small electric wheelchairs around town. Often, they are in the street because there is no sidewalk. I see them in places that make me wonder how they got there — like West State Street.
People who are handicapped often have difficult choices to make. Some depend on public transportation, others on rather expensive assistance transport services. Some manage to load their equipment in cars, on bumper racks and those with the most money, in vehicles that are specially adapted to the needs of handicapped people. And something that is very frustrating — to depend on others to get you where you need to go — inspired handicapped attorney Stacey Zoern to search for better options.
Zoern has a new vehicle coming out — a little electric car that makes it possible for a person with limited means to roll their wheelchair into the car, then drive the car to where they need to go. The following is a report on a video blog found in the Huffington Post “Green” section sent to me by a reader of this column [my comments are in brackets]:
A recent addition to the electric vehicle market hopes to bring green transportation to more individuals that use wheelchairs. Translogic’s [an Internet magazine tied to AOL] Bradley Hasemeyer took a test drive of the Kenguru and found it “really fun” to drive.
The vehicle, which was originally developed in Hungary [but the company lost its funding], was [bought] by Austin, Texas-based lawyer Stacy Zoern [who has never walked]. Two years after Zoern called the Hungarian company, the Kenguru is now manufactured in Pflugerville, Texas.
Noting that, “Manual wheelchair conversions can add $14,000 or more to the cost of a van, minivan or SUV purchase,” Translogic explains that the Kenguru could be a more affordable vehicle option for wheelchair users. Zoern told Hasemeyer that with federal and state electric vehicle incentives and vocational rehabilitation incentives, the vehicle’s $25,000 price tag can be reduced to $20,000 or even, in “some cases,” nothing.
The Kenguru, according to Translogic, can travel at speeds up to 25 miles per hour with a 60-mile range. It takes eight hours to fully charge. Hasemeyer said it has “good pickup” and makes “such a great option for someone in a wheelchair.”
While maybe not the best report, you get the idea. A small car with a big back door and a low ramp that a wheelchair can easily enter — with the capabilities of Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). This would be much safer and reasonable to use for people with disabilities and modest transportation needs. A trip to get groceries would be much less of a life-threatening experience as long as they stay off the busier streets (as required in most cities that permit NEVs). And, the cost of upkeep and charging would be relatively low compared to feeding a big van with a wheelchair lift.
The Keguru would not be what everyone needs, but it is what some people need, and we are glad to see people coming up with creative, green and inexpensive solutions to transportation needs.
Maybe you or a loved one needs a Kenguru, too. The woman I saw on Sixth Street certainly does.