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Lessons We've Learned

Here you will find entires on the lessons we have learned as we have progressed with our mission. The intent of these essays is to help you understand what we have learned, why an event or discovery was noteworthy, where we planned to go in the future, and why we have chosen to take that route.

On Building the Chevelle

October 2013

The experience of modifying the 1970 Chevelle to be handicap accessible and drivable was one of triumph, frustration, joy, and education. What started out as an improbable idea scratched on a napkin is now a fully functioning prototype. With the lessons we learned during the build, the demonstration of the prototype, and the immense support received for the program, it is clear that the mission of Wounded Wheels is a worthwhile one with challenges to overcome and new avenues to explore.

The process of modifying the ’70 Chevelle was arduous but rewarding. As the prototype vehicle, the ’70 Chevelle embodies the sense of the American classic muscle car. As the word was spread about what we at Wounded Wheels were doing, and people were able to see the vehicle in various stages of development, a spark was ignited and a fire storm of interest would soon follow. The amount of support we have received for our program has been staggering. People and companies are now thinking about how they can design, create, and implement handicap accessibility in areas that were not considered before, because of our work. People are now thinking about how they can help our wounded veterans, whether through support of our program or other programs that tend to the needs of our wounded veterans, because of our inspiration.

Many lessons were learned while modifying the ’70 Chevelle; possibly the most important lessons learned involved the limitations of the vehicle and other muscle cars of this era: the drive shaft got in the way, the frame of the vehicle did not have enough clearance to drive a wheelchair straight into the vehicle, the space in front of the steering wheel did not have enough clearance for the wheelchair to sit, the car frame was not low enough to easily accommodate the ramp, and the list could continue. These obstacles were merely challenges to reaching our goal and were not going to stand in our way; however they may be approached differently in the future. Something else we learned was that many paralyzed and bi-lateral amputees use a transfer method to get into and out of vehicles and then use hand controls to drive them. They would not utilize the ramp system we created as, in many cases, they have enough mobility to transfer themselves from seat to seat. While we had physical (as opposed to digital) hand controls in the ’70 Chevelle, the more challenging and greater need is to adapt a vehicle for our tetraplegic and multi-amputee veterans.

We invited several bilateral amputee and paralyzed veterans to give their feedback on our prototype vehicle. What we learned from them is that there is a need for our design (based on paraplegics and bi-lateral amputees) but there is a greater need for our more disabled veterans. Approximately 60% of those that have use of both of their arms are capable of transferring themselves and their chairs into any vehicle that has suitable hand controls. Because of this feedback we are now looking toward modifying a ’72 Challenger to be handicap accessible and drivable for a tetraplegic or multiple amputee veteran. A big change for the ’72 Challenger means digital hand controls instead of physical ones. The digital controls would allow an individual with the use of one hand or, depending on the digital controls, voice control for the driving of the vehicle. For our tetraplegic veterans, a different design for the ingress and egress of the vehicle will be needed as these individuals often do not have complete control over their spines, which is required for the current ’70 Chevelle prototype. As we had several difficulties with the space allowances on the ’70 Chevelle, the need for more space is creating greater challenges for the next prototype and the Research and Development going into the vehicle will result in a radically different ingress and egress procedures.

We are extremely pleased and proud of what we have accomplished so far, but we are still very much in the research and development phase of our program. We learned invaluable information from modifying the first prototype, a ’70 Chevelle. The most important lesson we learned is we need to do more for our more disabled veterans. They are the ones who truly have a need for our modifications. We are overwhelmed with the support we have received from veterans, current military, non-military, and even some support from foreign military and non-military. Although all of our financial needs have not been fully met we are able to, with the support of contributions and the support of FantomWorks, continue to build dreams for our deserving heroes. Our future is bright and we are eagerly delving into building our tetraplegic and multi-amputee prototype, a ’72 Challenger.