Frank Adams from Holmfirth, Yorkshire, has attended every national Mobility Roadshow since 1983.
My first visit to the Mobility Roadshow was 1983, at its original location at the Road Research base at Crowthorne in Berkshire. I went with Sue a fellow volunteer at DIAL (Disability Information & Advice Line) Mid Sussex, The journey there from West Sussex seemed to take ages across country. When we arrived and finally parked, it was essential to find an accessible loo! When we located one there was a long queue of other desperate people waiting to use the two or three that were there.
From the carpark there were army cadets ready to assist down the slope to the exhibition area and would act as pushers for anyone requiring it.
Linda Chalker, Minister for Transport, opened the event, we were not near enough to hear what she said, although her voice echoed around the show.
The main reason we were there was to look at the range of vehicles, and for the first time, have the opportunity of a test drive or two. This was a first for disabled people, as before this, the only way to test a possible replacement car was to sit alongside someone who drove without hand controls. It is not the same experience as driving yourself. It is fair to say that the number of vehicles fitted with hand controls was very limited, and the number of automatics, even more so.
Over the years the Roadshow has tried various locations, including Donington Park, Edinburgh, and Kemble Airfield. Peterborough, in my view, has proved to be a winner, with good access and signposting from the A1, plenty of well controlled parking, with loos as soon as you get there, most important detail especially when one has travelled a distance, and best of all good circulation space within the exhibition area. There are other exhibitions that could learn from this example!
My experience of the early Roadshows is of the development of pavement scooters. The early ones were more of a typist chair on a frame with three wheels with the motor on the front. One particular example had a steering wheel that was turned 90 degrees to reverse. The one I was using at the time was an American example that had a piece of leather that was pulled against the motor spindle to act as a brake, this was operated by a cycle brake lever. How scooters have evolved since then. I was covering the Roadshow for “Does He Take Sugar” for Radio 4, (long since axed by the BBC) when I asked a scooter manufacturer why lights were not fitted? His reply was “Do you know how much power that would be used if they were fitted? You would reduce the range considerably!” Now of course lighting is pretty standard on most scooters.
Another milestone was the introduction of the Class 3 scooter that can travel up to 8 mph on the road and still up to 4 mph that the class 2 scooter does on pavements. I was one of the group who produced a valuable training video for the Mobility Unit of the Department of Transport “Be Safe at 8mph”. I had the pleasure of demonstrating a class 3 Booster Trophy to Steven Norris, then Minister for Transport, who declined to try the scooter on the prepared obstacle course. The pity is that the video did not get the publicity needed to promote it. On looking at it again recently, it would still be appropriate today especially after a number of accidents reported in the press, who then ask why training is not given to users.
Another product that has evolved since the first Roadshow is the powered wheelchair, going from ‘wet’ lead acid batteries, to sealed lead acid, through to ‘gel’ batteries. The technology in the motors and controllers has made a vast difference to where and how powerchairs are used. No longer for just indoors or the local shop, day centre or work, but an integral part of the users life. For me that’s trips to the coast or into the country using a reasonable surface. The starting point for me is the correct seating and pressure cushion, again they have evolved by using the benefit of new materials and have to work for the user for many hours a day.
As stated earlier, a big part of the Roadshow is to try out different vehicles. Previously, I bought my own cars or when more upwardly-mobile VW campers. The problem was choosing something that hand controls could be fitted to. As cars became more sophisticated the hand controls had to evolve from the Bowden cable throttle and steel rod brake, through to ‘fly-by-wire controls that are in use today on many cars. Whether you use a throttle ring, trigger or push-pull system, the different manufacturers have to research each new vehicle to be able to produce controls that meet all the practical and legal requirements now needed. A massive leap forward from the mild steel bar with a Bowden cable and a couple of U clamps that made my first car, a Morris 1000, possible for me to drive.
Over the years I have been inspired by several products seen at the Roadshow, many of which I could never afford, but still admired the design or concept. I have seen several good ideas come and go, and gained a fantastic store of information. As a result of the show I have a Quickie wheelchair fitted with Alber wheels that I use in and around my home and trips to the hospital. I use a Spectra Plus wheelchair outdoors (this needs replacing as it doesn’t perform outdoors as I would like it to do, and I can’t use it indoors). My vehicle is a VW Caddy I-Can supplied by Sirus through Motability. What a difference having a WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle) has made to my mobility. I first saw the Sirus conversion of a Kangoo at the Roadshow in Edinburgh and then had a test drive of a Caddy at Kemble. Equally as important as the vehicle is the after sales service. Whether it is a scooter, powerchair, vehicle or any other equipment, it is the after sales service and customer support that needs to be included when considering on buying any disability related equipment, as we rely on them far more than non-disabled customers.
Last year, my wife and I were invited to be on the Sirus stand as customers.
I was wearing a t-shirt saying that I was a Sirus customer – ask me a question. It was very pleasing to be on hand, as we were asked a number of questions that visitors felt we could answer better than the sales team. It was a brilliant and brave idea of Vicky Crees from Sirus to ask us as we had a free hand to say what we felt was the right answer. Questions ranged from how good was the after sales service, have we had any problems with the vehicle, how easy is it to get in and out in bad weather, do I have any problems with parking. All of these and others were fed back. It would be interesting to do it again.
The wheelchair issue has been solved by a Salsa M mid-wheel drive wheelchair that is compact enough to use indoors and performs well outdoors. It took a while to solve the ‘docking issue’ that a wheelchair needs to drive-from must have fitted.
We are looking forward to going to Telford in 2013 and seeing old and new friends.