For most wheelchair users, the simple act of driving means paying $100,000 or more for a modified vehicle. Cheaper modifications are available in some cases, but typically require drivers to physically drag their wheelchairs over themselves to get into the driver’s seat – a feat of upper-body strength that is impossible for some.
Such challenges have barred many wheelchair users from driving a car at all, and eco-friendly EV travel was surely out of the question. But a Texas-based startup is on a mission to change all that with a big dream and simple yet ingenious idea: the Kenguru, the first low-speed electric vehicle designed specifically for wheelchair users.
The Kenguru (pronounced “kangaroo”) can accommodate one passenger seated in his or her wheelchair for a range of up to 60 miles. To use the Kenguru, drivers simply open the back hatch, wheel their chairs inside and drive away.
The vehicle, which was originally developed in Hungary, was brought to the U.S. last year by Pflugerville, Texas lawyer Stacy Zoern, who is all too familiar with the struggles facing wheelchair users seeking independence.
“I have a disability called spinal muscular atrophy, which is a form of muscular dystrophy,” Zoern explains. “So, I’ve actually never walked and have used a wheelchair all my life.”
“So, my entire adult life getting to the doctor has been a challenge, getting to the grocery store, running errands. Even just having a social life is hard, because my friends have to pick me up and take me everywhere,” she continues.
When Zoern was 19, she got a fully-modified van – equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls – that allowed her to drive. After only a few months, problems with the steering caused her to get into an accident, totaling her van and ending her brief driving experience.
Years later, Zoern became frustrated with her lack of mobility and took to the internet on a quest for independence.
After discovering the Kenguru and learning that the Hungarian manufacturer ran out of funding before putting it into production, she resolved to raise the cash herself and bring the vehicle to the United States. A mere two years later, the cars were in small-scale production in her hometown of Pflugerville, Texas.