The imaginative revamp of a commercial Ford vehicle has resulted in a host of positive features for a wheelchair user.
The day of July 21, 2015 saw Dion Theart transfer into his new Ford Tourneo Connect, his first time behind the wheel of a car since a freak hunting accident left him a quadriplegic. It had taken him 11 months to get enough strength to drive again and to find the perfect car. Not only did he get in and drive it for the first time, but over the next two days he and his wife drove to Cape Town from Pretoria – via the scenic Bainskloof pass – a challenge for even the most experienced drivers! Dion wanted his independence back and once he was behind the wheel, there was no stopping him.
This was not the first spinal injury that Dion suffered. Three years earlier, he had smashed two vertebrae in his back when he wrote off his Harley-Davidson. This time he was run over by his bakkie while hunting, which broke his neck, resulting in permanent spinal cord damage. Despite his incomplete C5/6 injury, he bought himself a Segfree, a ScootFree and a Free Wheel, all of which opened the way to the outdoor lifestyle that he loves – but he had to find a way to transport them.
The Tourneo Connect, launched in South Africa in March this year, is based on the Ford Tourneo platform, which is a commercial vehicle, but Ford has turned it into a spacious and comfortable family vehicle with a dose of safety technology along with the remarkably efficient ECOnetic Technology. The result is a hard-working, efficient and easy-driving family car. Best of all – it’s available in automatic!
The first features that caught Dion’s attention were the double side-sliding doors and the massive boot space. The rear-door opening with a low door sill at only 560 mm off the ground, with a flat floor and a square aperture of 1190 mm wide and 1140 mm high, made it easy to drive his Segfree and Scootfree up a ramp into the car. Dion chose the long wheelbase Grand Titanium model, which is a 7-seater, but he removed the 2 seats at the back, thus creating a 5-seater with a generous boot, the kind of space that one would only expect to find in a van. The passenger seats have plenty of legroom.
The lowest height of the driver’s seat is 660 mm – a good 160 mm higher than his wheelchair. Dion’s transfers are not strong enough to lift that height, so he fitted the Kivi Lifting Platform to get him in and out. He chose to fit the Carospeed push-pull hand control (fitted by Shoprider), which is a lever positioned next to the central console. They are noninvasive, the rods and cables are neatly secured where they do not restrict his legroom, and they have an indicator button positioned on the handle that he can activate using the flicker of movement in his left fingers. He thinks they look like a 4×4 gear lever instead of a hand control!
He encountered a number of other unexpectedly helpful features: the lightness of the power steering; the rearview camera, which converts his rearview mirror into a video screen showing what is happening behind the vehicle when he puts it into reverse; the automatic wipers and head lights; and the cruise control, which enables him to take his left hand off the accelerator and drive with two hands on the steering wheel. He was also delighted to find how easily his cellphone synced with the Bluetooth Voice-activated Ford SYNC® – perfect for people who need to use their voice instead of their hands for a number of cellphone features as well as controlling the radio, MP3 player, USB or iPod.
Although the Tourneo Connect is only available in a 1.0 litre and 1.6 litre EcoBoost and Duratorq TDCi, its engine is packed with power, with the 1.0L EcoBoost producing 74 Kw/170Nm of Torque, and the 1.6L producing 110 Kw/240Nm. It is available in a short and long wheelbase with three variants: the Ambient, Trend and Grand Titanium. Pricing starts from R273 900 for the smaller manual models and from R363 900 for the Grand Titanium. Ford SA saved Dion the time and effort of applying for a rebate, and gave him a significant discount, which helped him to cover the costs of his adaptations. Within three weeks of getting his new wheels, the Tourneo took him back into the bush on his first hunting trip in a wheelchair!
Caroline Rule (B.Sc. OT UCT) is an occupational therapist, specialising in driver rehabilitation and wheelchair rugby. email: firstname.lastname@example.org