Overcoming Ability Obstacles in a Tesla
By: Harry C. Burch
As a society, we tend to overlook the differently abled people in our communities. Unless you are someone or are close to someone who has physical challenges, handicap parking spots and accessible buildings may not make an impression on you. However, for those with limited mobility, these are just a few of the things necessary to function on a daily basis.
One such accommodation is hand controls for vehicles to allow those with limited lower body mobility to drive. Tesla and other modern vehicles can present issues with installing hands controls due to changes in the construction of late model automobiles. With the advent of digital controls replacing the mechanical linkages of years past, connecting mechanical devices for pedal controls is problematic. These devices used to attach to the steering column for structural support, but steering columns are no longer structural.
At least one means of installing hand controls has been developed for cars like Tesla that doesn't rely on the steering column as a structural member. We appreciate the quality work that companies such as Agor Enterprises in Penfield, NY (https://www.agorenterprises.com/) do to install these devices. Agor fabricates a custom baseplate to which the manufacturer's devices are attached during the installation. This is attached under the front seat bracket so that no drilling or alterations to the structure is needed. One such device manufacturer is Veigel (https://www.mobilityinnovators.com/products/primary-controls/hand-controls/) who offers many options for their controls.
Next, a mechanism that looks like a gear shifter is attached to the baseplate, then to the brake and accelerator pedals.
Finally, a spinner is attached to the steering wheel. Now the vehicle is ready to be driven, but only by someone who has been professionally trained to drive with adaptive devices. These programs are available through local agencies such as the Al Sigl Center in Rochester, NY (https://www.alsigl.org/) and consist of several sessions over a few weeks. The driver then gets their license restricted to hand controls.
The operation with hand controls is fairly straightforward, but takes the practice afforded by the training to safely master driving with hand controls. The driver uses their left hand to steer with the spinner while the right hand controls the brake and accelerator. The "shifter" is pulled back to accelerate and pushed forward to brake. The brake position has a "hold" button, but Tesla owners already have that as a standard function. The hand controls do not interfere with the normal operation of the pedals by someone using their feet.
Once having a vehicle equipped with hand controls and completing the training, the driver is now ready to join the world in everyday activities. In the US, the ability to drive oneself is critical in most areas and, with this accommodation, those with lower body limitations can fully participate in the community.