Thulani Tshabalala is a remarkable person who, at first glance, seems to have gone through life with all the odds stacked against him – and yet he has survived and not only has he survived but he has thrived. Today, he is the CEO of the Thabo Mbeki Development Trust for Disabled People (TMDT), and he drives a KIA SORENTO.... lucky man!Thulani was stabbed in 1980 when he was living in Soweto. He spent 6 months in Baragwanath Hospital where he never received any rehabilitation or even any counselling.
He and his family battled to understand what had happened to him, how he was going to survive this new life, and how he could reintegrate back into society. He found it very difficult in the beginning and it took him a long time to adjust. He was unable to complete his schooling as he could neither get to school nor was the school accessible. He spent many hours reading and teaching himself how to survive.
His first major step forward was when he helped to establish Self Help Association of Paraplegics (SHAP) in Soweto. He then signed up to Access College where he spent 3 years studying Business Administration. The skills that he learnt at the college enabled him to participate in the development of SHAP. From SHAP he moved on to become the Gauteng Provincial Development Officer for the Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA).
Studying at a University in those days as a paraplegic was no easy feat, but Thulani was determined to get the education that he needed; he did courses through Wits and Damelin as well as correspondence courses. In 1999 he accepted the position as General Manager: Projects for the TMDT, and in 2007 he took over as the CEO of the Trust.
The Thabo Mbeki Development Trust is a development agency that works on sourcing funding in order to increase economic development for disabled people. TMDT achieve these through projects and programs. The three main programs include provision of Assistive Devices for Employed Disabled People, facilitation of funding for Poverty Alleviation Projects (PAP) and the facilitation of Skills Development and Employment for People with Disabilities.
Some PAP projects are in rural areas and Thulani is required to visit them. He soon realised that getting stuck in the bush in his Toyota Corolla with only his wheelchair to help him get out, was not much fun, so he decided he needed a reliable 4x4 that could keep him unstuck, but that was not too high (so that he could still get in and out), and that could also transport lots of people.
The problem with a 4x4 is getting in and out of the vehicle and loading the wheelchair. It’s a bit like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – it can be done but takes a lot of effort and needs the right equipment and technique!
Thulani is able to reach the roof of the Sorento from his chair, and this gives him a good leverage position to lift himself into the vehicle. Most other 4x4’s are too high to manage this.
The Sorento has a height adjustable driver’s seat, with the minimum height being 79cm. This is still a lot higher than Thulani’s wheelchair, however he finds that it is easier getting into and out of a vehicle that is higher than the wheelchair compared with a vehicle that is lower than his wheelchair.
He uses the lightweight, folding, rigid, wheelchair from Altomobility and this allows him to leave the wheels on, fold up the chair and pull it across his lap.
In his position as CEO, Thulani often has to drive hired vehicles. This has given him the opportunity to try out lots of different models of vehicles to assess which ones work best for him. He finds that the lighter cars, with very light power steering give him an unstable driving environment, which can make driving difficult for a person with no balance.
He describes the Sorento as being solid on the road, which give him the stability that he needs. It also has a comfortable, well positioned armrest on the door panel on which he can support himself and still keep his hands on the controls and steering wheel. This support helps to prevent him from losing his balance while driving.
The adjustable drivers’ seat is also a great feature of the Sorento. It is height adjustable and the seat angle can also be changed by raising or lowering either the front or back of the seat. Lowering the seat helps with entering the vehicle, and raising the back of the seat helps with transferring out of the vehicle. Once inside the vehicle he is able to raise the front of the seat which wedges his pelvis into a stable position to compensate for his lack of balance. It also lifts his legs so that they can be folded back, well away from the pedals, and reduces the risk of his foot getting caught underneath one of the pedals and affecting his control of the vehicle. And the backrest of the seat folds right back so that he can give himself enough space when loading his wheelchair.
In all of his vehicles Thulani has always used the Chairman Industries Co-Driver radial conversion for his hand control and is very happy with the system, and with the service that he receives from Chairman Industries. This system has a lever positioned to the right of the steering wheel. To break, he pushes it away from himself and to accelerate he pushes it down towards his lap. The benefit of the radial system is that, when driving long distances, he can rest his arm on the lever for acceleration which does not require a lot of energy. It is also positioned close enough to the steering wheel that he is able to keep his hand on the wheel at all times while he is driving. Thulani does a lot of long distance driving and he has found that, in comparison with many other vehicles, the Sorento is very comfortable for distance driving and he does not get tired.
The standard Sorento comes packed with useful features for drivers with disabilities, these include:, cruise control, climate control with separate temperature for passenger and driver, electrically operated windows, electrically operated side mirrors, height/tilt adjustable steering column, power steering, park distance control – rear proximity sensor, central locking with remote access, leather upholstery (does not get messed up by the wheelchair as quickly as normal upholstery) and lots of useful storage compartments.
The Sorento is available in a 4x2 or permanent 4x4 with a low range feature and limited slip diff. You have the choice of 2.5L CRDi with manual or automatic transmission or the 3.8L V6 DOHC available only with automatic transmission. The Sorento 4x2 2.5 automatic will cost you about R345 000 incl. vat, and the equivalent 4x4 will cost about R375 000. The rebate on this vehicle could save you in the region of R60 000 – which should easily cover the costs of any conversions that you would need to make. On the down side, the fuel consumption is not the greatest in its class with an average of about 10.2litres / 100km.
Kia Motors Corporation’s brand slogan, “The power to surprise”, represents the company’s global commitment to surpassing customer expectations through continuous automotive innovation. The Sorento has come out with a 10 year / 150 000km warranty, including anti-corrosion. This is a first in the industry and shows Kia’s faith in their products. The 2007 Kia Sorento earned a five-star crash safety rating, the highest rating possible, for all seating positions in the latest frontal and side impact crash tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are not many 4x4’s that can claim this rating. According to the US News, Ranking and Reviews, the 2009 Kia Sorento ranks 3rd out of 27 “Affordable Compact SUVs”.
So if you are a wheelchair user and are looking for a comfortable, reliable 4x4 that has all the features of a comfortable city car, but can get you out into the African bush in the same comfort, and if you have long arms and a pretty strong transfer, then perhaps this is a vehicle for you!