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A New Car Service in France is Making a Huge Difference to Wheelchair Users

Charlotte de Vilmorin

For most people, using a car service like Uber or Lyft is simple—request a car using your smartphone app, wait a couple minutes for the driver to arrive, get in, and arrive at your destination.

All that changes the second you either are or are with someone who has a physical handicap that confines them to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, most vehicles used by car services aren’t modified for wheelchair accessibility.

One disabled Paris resident got fed up with the lack of accesable transportation and decided it was time for a change.

That’s when Charlotte de Vilmorin founded Wheeliz, a new car-sharing service in France that gives people who use wheelchairs easy-access to modified cars at an affordable price.

I believe the world of startups and innovation is still disconnected from the needs of disabled people. To me, it is essential to create and build a sustainable sharing community dedicated to the mobility problem,” says de Vilmorin.

And Wheeliz doesn’t only benefit those with disabilities, it also benefits the owners of these specialized vehicles. On average, adapted car owners can earn almost $400 a week listing their vehicle on the site.

Currently, big players in the car service industry such as Uber and Lyft are facing several lawsuits in the United States for providing inadequate access for handicapped people. Back in July, Uber attempted to address these concerns by creating UberAssist for seniors and people with disabilities who need trained drivers to help them get in and out of the vehicle. The problem is, because Uber drivers are technically independent contractors, the company cannot require them to own a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. This becomes a huge problem as soon as a driver pulls up to a passenger who uses an electric wheelchair.

There are other car services that offer wheelchair-accessible rentals to disabled drivers, but they can be outrageously expensive. According to de Vilmorin, she’s found services costing up to $1,000 for a 10-day rental. With Wheeliz, handicapped drivers can pay a daily fee of just $55 to $65 depending on the list price of the vehicle.

In the U.S. there is an electric car designed especially for people in wheelchairs, and it has been helping millions of disabled people get to where they need to go. The Kenguru was designed with a pop-up back door and handlebars for steering.

I really believe there is an opportunity there for the collaborative economy and sharing economy to make mobility more accessible for wheelchair users,” said de Vilmorin.

Right now the start-up service is only available in Paris, Nancy, Nantes, and Bordeaux in France, but de Vilmorin wants to expand the business internationally. Her dream is to make it so disabled people around the world can have access to the adapted cars they need to travel with the same ease as anyone else.

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