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Ford Focus Combi with open doors

Motability – The Big Event

By Jane Sowerby

Speaking as a disabled driver, you can’t beat an event that enables you to check out a huge range of cars, all under one fully accessible roof. The Big Event in Manchester hosts the largest display in the UK of vehicles available on the Motability scheme, as well as having an impressive number of adapted cars to test drive. 

For people with mobility issues, choosing a new car is not quite as straightforward as finding one you happen to like the look of. Having a disability can throw up a whole host of challenges that able-bodied people may not be aware of. On the Ford stand, we’re always genuinely interested in finding the right car to meet people’s needs.

Quite often, customers make a beeline for myself or Jason, the other Ford Mobility Ambassador on the stand – as we’re both wheelchair users, people sometimes feel more comfortable opening up about their situation. I have my own personal checklist to make sure a vehicle suits my lifestyle and disability, but I also understand that everyone has different individual needs to be met. One of the reasons I love to work at these events is that we have the time to really talk through people’s challenges, and then try to come up with solutions together. It’s great to actually meet customers face-to-face to learn about their backgrounds and experiences. Some people are already sure what their specific requirements are, others just need to talk it through with someone to make things a little clearer.

The height of the seat is often a high priority for people – a wheelchair user might prefer a lower seat for an easy transfer, but someone with other mobility issues might find a higher seat easier so they can stand and pivot to get in the car.

Another priority is space. I remember choosing my first car after sustaining a spinal injury – as well as needing to be able to collapse the wheelchair and place it on the passenger seat, I also wanted there to be plenty of room for it in the boot so that I could still go out with friends without it taking up half the car space! Many people feel more at ease checking to see if their wheelchair will fit into a car at these events, rather than with a local dealer. Seeing people try this out is a great reminder that you’re not the only person facing these everyday challenges.

Of course, as well as a wheelchair, the car may have to fit in a whole host of other items – dogs, children, handbike, skis, off-road wheels – the list is endless! The tape measure has to be one of the most sought after items on our stand at the roadshow! Someone’s next car really could have a positive impact on his or her life, so it’s important to be able to take the necessary time and measurements to make the right choice.

The most rewarding moments at the events come from witnessing people as they realise just what they are capable of! Everything for me after my accident has revolved around working out what can still be done, rather than dwelling on things that can’t. Chatting to one young girl and her family this year just made my day.

They had their heart set on the B-Max but she was really struggling to get into the back seat and was close to tears. We spent a long time looking at different transfer techniques until finding one that just suited her, and that worked without any difficulty. The look on her face was priceless; I’d recognise that sense of achievement anywhere!

I spent a while talking to her family who had encountered various complications since her accident. It was great to be able to signpost them to services that will hopefully improve their situation. I remember how overwhelming things can be when you first have such a life-changing accident; sometimes all you need is someone who’s been through it themselves to give you a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Another tear jerking moment was seeing a 16-year-old boy independently getting himself and his wheelchair into the car, after being told by several people that this probably wouldn’t be possible. He had a pretty faultless technique as well, incredible! His mum looked like she was about to burst with pride, and he looked like someone who’d just had a whole new world of possibilities opened for him. It may not seem like a lot to some people, but something like this can make the world seem a little less daunting, and encourage you to take on greater, more empowering challenges.

Who knew that a stand at a car show could challenge perceptions of disability and increase confidence! I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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