By Jason Richards 

This year’s Big Event was Motability's flagship roadshow and part of the One Big Day programme they run annually. It was held entirely indoors over two days at EventCity, Manchester and started out just the same as in previous years, with a rush of people coming through the doors as they opened to see the latest vehicles on the Motability Scheme and book in their test drives on the adapted vehicles.

Like most years there were a range of visitors of all ages and disabilities who were seeking advice on size, shape, performance, economy, adaptations and the pricing structure under the Motability Scheme.

Sliding doors were all the rage this year with the new Grand Tourneo Connect and B-MAX on display at the Ford stand. These two vehicles were the stars of the show for me and I spent most of my time at the event working out how to fold the seats down in the Grand Tourneo Connect (once you know how it’s very easy). As well as showing people how the rear entry system works on both vehicles and seeing a variety of ways that the pillarless doors really help people with disabilities and mobility aids.

With Ford possibly being the only motor company who had disabled ambassadors on their stand at the event we are often the “go to” for real hands on, practical advice and we tend to meet a lot of interesting people over the course of the weekend.

This was particularly invaluable this year when I started to talk to a young 16 year old boy, who attended the show with his Mum and Grandma. They were looking at the B-Max and asking questions about where and how a hoist could be fitted to the vehicle. I noticed that the young chap was very mobile and energetic and was able to manoeuvre his wheelchair with ease. I asked if he had ever thought about lifting his wheelchair into the car, rather than using a hoist to do the job. 

This was something the family had never considered and so we embarked on several test attempts, lifting the frame of the chair and the wheels into the car to see if it was possible. It was liberating to see a young boys ambitions and independence grow as the reality of being an independent driver came to fruition. At one point the boys Mum also jumped in to the passenger seat and pretended to be a nervous passenger. When they left the stand there was a sense of hope for the boy, new possibilities and ambition for the future; a whole new level of independence for a young boy starting out into adulthood.

It’s always useful to understand the life style of the person who will be the primary user of the car and this became clearly apparent with a lady I met who was also interested in the B-Max. She was able to walk but her strength on one side of her body was less than the other which affected her balance. She loved the B-Max in every sense but was unable to close the rear sliding doors and this was a stumbling block for her. I tried, thinking it would be a breeze, and also found it difficult to get the door moving and past the point of inertia. We looked at each other unable to understand why the door seemed so difficult to move.

I moved my wheelchair around and tried several different angles and ways of sliding the door, rather than pulling the handle out as you would expect. Suddenly the door slid effortlessly and glided shut. This was not about the strength needed to move the door but about breaking convention and tradition and sliding, rather than pulling the door open and closed. The lady tried the same technique from a similar position and suddenly the door slid into motion and closed effortlessly. A huge smile of delight appeared on the ladies face with the realisation that the car she wanted was now a viable option. She stood sliding the rear door open and closed and we marvelled at how we as the consumer needed a change of mind-set in the same way that the designers had taken a bold step in introducing the pillarless sliding door option.

Being independent and maintaining your freedom can be a daunting prospect when you’ve had a change of circumstances or found yourself in the world of disability. However, this year’s event in Manchester was proof to us at Ford again that having Motability ambassadors as part of the team of the stand not only sets us apart from other manufacturers, but it allows us to and provide more accurate and informed advice. This service and the thought behind it are very much worthwhile, rewarding and very well received.

We now look forward to the rest of the One Big Day events coming up in 2015.