Wheelchair users are often in a position where they have to rely on others for help, even with the simplest daily tasks. Their lack of mobility prevents them from being independent when it comes to getting around town, connecting with the community, or just running a simple errand. An electric car built specifically for wheelchair users, aims to change that.
Five years ago, while she was working as a patent lawyer at a large law firm, Stacy Zoern discovered a prototype of a tiny electric car made exclusively for people in wheelchairs. Zoern, who had lived her entire life with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, saw in the car an opportunity to finally be independent, and was eager to get in touch with the Hungarian company to order one for herself. After discovering that the vehicle was not in production due to lack of funding, she became determined to revive the project in the US. Five years and $3 million raised later, Stacy and her Hungarian partner Istvan Kissaroslaki are manufacturing the car.
Kenguru (Hungarian for “kangaroo”) is electric and can travel 60 miles on an overnight charge with top speed of 25 miles per hour. Its greatest advantage is that a wheelchair user can roll into it with a push of a button and operate it with similar ease. As Zoern explains, even though people in wheelchairs can drive regular cars with modifications, one of the big problems is having to get out of the chair and transfer yourself into the car, then collapsing the chair and dragging it inside. This is time-consuming, inconvenient, and physically difficult.
The first model of the Kenguru is made for manual wheelchair users and sells for around $20,000. A wheelchair van runs for about twice as much. The next model will be made for motorized wheelchairs, and will be operated by a joystick, enabling people with conditions similar to Zoern — who have very little strength — to drive it. Currently, the only other alternative for people with similar needs is a specially modified van that can run for up to $100,000.
Zoern’s company, Community Cars, currently manufactures 500 cars a year, but with 50 million people around the world who use wheelchairs, Zoern believes there is much room for growth.