“It’s a totally new feeling – you wouldn’t think it would be like that”, is how Anita Raguwaran describes her new-found freedom to simply drive wherever she wants to. Anita has been driving for more than a month now with her new Peugeot Traveller, which was adapted in line with her specific needs. Her vehicle equipment includes the Space Drive drive-by-wire system with two two-way joysticks for steering, acceleration and braking, a cassette lift and a transfer seat base for the driver’s seat.
Anita, 29, is an assistant nuclear medicine physician who was born with muscular dystrophy. Despite her condition, or perhaps because of it, she wanted to study medicine from childhood. When she first took up her studies, Anita was still able to ride the bus and train from Saarbrücken to the university hospital in the town of Homburg/Saar. However, this trip became increasingly difficult over time. While she is still able to walk a few steps, she’s been dependent on a wheelchair since she was 25. Despite the fact that doing things on the spur of the moment became more and more difficult, she remained determined to do as much as possible for as long as possible on her own.
Anita found out about PARAVAN from a friend who is a team-mate of hers on the German Para-Boccia national team. She couldn’t afford a vehicle conversion while she was studying, but she nevertheless began planning ways to purchase a modified car at some point. “I knew that after I completed my degree, I wouldn’t have time for driver education anymore”, she explains; with this in mind, she started taking driving courses while she was still at university. After completing three weeks of practical training at the Aichelau mobility park, she thought to herself: “Hey, I have a driving licence now, so I’m going to need a car.”
At the beginning of 2018, Anita began working as an assistant physician in the radiology department of the University Hospital in Homburg. She was then able to formally apply for a vehicle conversion from the German Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit). Her application was approved at the beginning of this year, and at the beginning of April, she got behind the wheel of her own vehicle for the first time.
Anita uses a cassette lift to get into the car and then switches to a transfer seat. She uses the Space Drive drive-by-wire system to operate her vehicle with two two-way joysticks – one on the left for acceleration and braking and the other on the right for steering. Anita’s vehicle is also equipped with PARAVAN Voice Control and PARAVAN Touch, which allow Anita to operate as many as 100 passive features, including a sun visor.
“The transfer out of the wheelchair was smooth from the very beginning”, she says. Only a few minor adjustments had to be made after the conversion was completed. These included placing the Touch system in the optimal position (just next to the right joystick) and installing handrests for the two joysticks. “A perfect vehicle conversion is extremely important for enabling customers to travel – even on long journeys – without experiencing pain or fatigue”, says Joachim Glück, who is responsible for technical consultancy at PARAVAN. Indeed, perfect conversions are the only way to ensure optimal and, above all, safe operation of the vehicle.
Taking initial test drives with her new car was a little strange for Anita after not driving for more than two-and-a-half years. “I was more courageous when I was in driving school”, Anita said after her first test drive. She quickly got the hang of it again, though, and after three days of practice she felt secure behind the wheel again. “Driving with a customer after they haven’t been behind the wheel for a long time is a normal part of the process”, says PARAVAN driving instructor Daniel Haberbosch. “We need to be sure they feel safe and comfortable when they get out on the road again.” After ten hours of driving in cities and the countryside, Anita had mastered the systems once again. “Then she was ready”, says Haberbosch.
The most important thing to Anita about her new car is the independence it gives her. In the past, she had to make arrangements for train trips well in advance or had to depend on others for her mobility. “I had to plan well in advance for things like special medical training courses”, she says. “Now, when I’m done doing something, I just get in the car and take off.” After she took delivery of her vehicle, Anita decided on the spot to take a trip to see her aunt in Augsburg, which is 140 kilometres away from Aichelau. “I wanted to get an idea of whether I could handle everything on my own”, she explains. “If I’d had a problem, I would have taken my uncle back to Saarbrücken with me.”
Driving is now a comfortable part of Anita’s normal routine. Just one day after she returned to Saarbrücken, Anita drove to the airport to pick up her brother – and a little more than one week after she got her car she had already put 1,000 kilometres on the clock. After she took delivery of her car, Anita wrote the following to the PARAVAN team: “I feel happy and safe in my new car. Things would never have moved as fast as they did if I hadn’t received such wonderful assistance and support from you. Thanks so much for your help.”