It’s about freedom.
When people are faced with mobility issues, having a vehicle they can drive — or at least get around in — is vital to ensure a good quality of life, Marco Ferrara, President of Universal Motion
, said during a fireside chat on the Innovation Stage, sponsored by the Toronto Star and EnerSavings, Thursday at the Canadian International AutoShow.
“In the automotive landscape, there are all sort of cars — sports cars and family cars, trucks, pickups,” said Mr. Ferrara. “People decide on a car and go get the car that they want. But nobody gets up in the morning and wants to buy a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. It’s what they need to get around.”
Universal Motion, started by Mr. Ferrara 20 years ago, is one of the few companies that has a Transport Canada-approved National Safety Mark. Providing wheelchair-accessible transportation solutions to the private market and small vehicle commercial transportation market, Universal Motion develops highly customized solutions to people’s transportation and driving needs.
The company was born from a need – with accessibility infrastructure lacking on public transit and within ride sharing services, absent their own vehicles customized to their needs, people living with mobility restrictions would be house-bound.
“Our objective is to get people back into the community and provide them freedom and quality of life,” said Mr. Ferrara. “An accessible vehicle is a need. That’s why it’s so important to have them.”
About 60 per cent of the vehicles customized by Universal Motion are modifying the passenger area, with a caregiver to do the driving. The remainder involves conceiving, designing and creating creative custom solutions that allow the client to drive.
And each of these has a story behind it.
Like the Ram 1500 pickup truck, on display as part of the Universal Motion exhibit at the AutoShow (South Building, 800 level). It belongs to a construction worker who was injured on the job — a guy who has been a pickup truck enthusiast, and wanted to keep his truck and stay in a construction career. The solution was a driver seat that swings out and down to enable him to get into the truck, and hand controls to actually drive the truck.
But there was another challenge to overcome.
“We had to figure out what to do with his wheelchair,” said Mr. Ferrara. “Getting you into the vehicle and to your destination without your wheelchair doesn’t do much good.”
The solution was a crane system that picks up the wheelchair and places it in the bed of the truck.
Mr. Ferrara also shared a story of a logger injured on the job, but he still wanted to pursue one of his great passions – hunting.
It’s a hobby difficult to pursue, as electric wheelchairs are not necessarily suited to the rugged forests and wilderness where the best hunting takes place. Universal Motion modified an eight-wheel Argo off-road vehicle for this task. A ramp of the back grants access to the vehicle, and the roof was raised to accommodate the height of the person in the wheelchair. The retrofit required moving the gas tank and reinforcing the frame. There was also a secondary gas heater added to keep the cabin warm without having to run the vehicle motor — and possibly scaring the game away.
The final product, also on display at the AutoShow, not only gets the client to the best hunting spots, but also can serve as a hunting blind.
Projects like these are important work.
“It’s called freedom,” said Mr. Ferrara.