While the greater percentage of people in wheelchairs are typically passengers in wheelchair vans, there is a significant number of wheelchair users who drive their handicap accessible vans using hand controls. And of that number, there are drivers in wheelchairs with disabilities that affect the use of their wrists and hand, and they can still drive, thanks to a variety of steering controls that can be attached to the steering wheel--even arm and hand amputees can take the wheel.
Driving aids complement basic hand controls and are designed to provide easy access to all vehicle functions for drivers with limited mobility in their arms or hands. Along with aids like pedal extensions, electric parking brakes, and a single switch that enables the driver to operate the headlights, parking lights, turn signals, hazard flashers, and horn, there is an array of controls that attach to the steering wheel to assist in steering the vehicle, based on the driver's specific need.
As you would expect, steering aid designs vary somewhat from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the function for each particular style is the same. The aids below are the most commonly used steering controls.
The steering knob or spinner knob is a knob (like a standard door knob) that secures to the steering wheel, enabling the driver to turn the steering wheel easily in either direction with one hand, rather than having to use both hands to make sharp turns and handle other maneuvers. Spinner devices allow safe operation of the steering wheel for drivers who must steer with one hand, allowing them to remain in contact with the steering wheel at all times. A single-pin steering control, covered with foam for comfort, provides the same assistance as a spinner knob in a different style.
An amputee driving ring accommodates most drivers with a prosthetic hook (typically with two fingers) on their steering arm. One finger goes on the outside of the ring, while the other finger fits on the inside, securing the driver to the steering wheel for safe, smooth handling. Like other on-wheel steering controls, the device attaches securely to the steering wheel in the optimum spot for the driver.
Designed for use on vehicles with power steering for persons with no tensor control in the wrist, the tri-pin grip is a three-pin grip that comfortably positions and secures the hand and wrist on the steering wheel.
The V-grip is a wheel spinner created for drivers with some tensor control, providing backhand support that secures the hand in a comfortable position.
Used by individuals with moderate tensor control who find a flat hand position more comfortable for driving, the palm grip typically has an open-loop handle that fits around the fingers and hand, so the driver steers the vehicle by sliding the hand and fingers through top of spinner.
For drivers with minimal gripping strength and/or reduced wrist stability, the quad-grip spinner is also called the U grip spinner. Driver steers vehicle by inserting their hand into the V grip of spinner.
Handicap vans can be equipped with a number of other driving aids depending on the needs of the driver. A mobility van dealership or a certified rehabilitation driving specialist (CDRS) can help you determine the best hand control system for your particular disability.
With proper installation, these assistive devices make it possible for people with disabilities to be their own chauffeurs!