When it comes to mobility solutions for the disabled and handicapped, Japan’s car manufacturers are leading the world. In no other country, even heavily handicapped costumers have such a wide choice of models and solutions directly from the car makers than in Japan. One reason is, that Japan is one of the fastest ageing societies. Another is the Japanese approach to ageing: With the help of technology the country tries to allow its people to lead an independent life as long as possible.
The market leader in this segment is – quel surprise – Japan’s market leader in the domestic car industry Toyota. Back in the 1990s Toyota already established the brand “Welcab” (a combination of the words Welfare/Welcome+Cabin). Meanwhile, the needs of disabled are integral part of the design for many models. As result Toyota can manufacture Welcab-versions of their models on the same line as the “normal” version, thus keeping the costs down. Toyota’s goal is to enable even persons, that are paralyzed below the sixth cervical vertebra to drive their own car, says chief engineer Hideyuki Iwata.
Some ideas are fairly unique. The new compact van Ractis (Verso-S in Europe) for example has a higher roof in the rear to give space for a person in a wheel chair. To make it easier for the helper to push the wheel-chair into the car, the car lowers its rear (“kneel down” in Toyota speak). In addition, two belts, that are used to affix the wheel chair in the car, double as a winch.
Well known in Japan are the sliding seats, that are sliding out of the car. The deluxe version even works as electric wheel chair outside the car. By the way, the wheel chair on the the picture is designed to the same safety standards as a car seat and should be able to withstand forces of up to 20 G in case of a car crash.
… but also easier to use. Toyota has designed the fixation of the wheel chair in such a way, that the helper can fasten the wheel chair on the platform from behind with two moves. Before, the helper had to walk around the wheel chair and needed four moves.
Another neat idea is a roof box that semi-automatically pulls up the wheel chair and stores it on the roof. This enables the driver not only, to store the wheel chair him or herself, but also saves space in the car for the family and the luggage.