When Brett Poulsen was 19 years old, he suffered a life-threatening injury playing rugby which left him a quadriplegic.

He was however, determined to find ways in which he could design a better life for himself and his family. How to design a car that suits his varied mobility needs was one of the challenges that Brett had set himself.

After some years of researching possibilities, Brett came across a Hyundai that had been written off in a car crash. It proved to still have a useful chassis that could be the foundation for the vehicle. With the assistance of Dave Kellett, from Motor Cycle Engineering, and Jim Duncan, from RACQ, his car took shape as a truly unique roadworthy method of getting about in all sorts of situations (with the exception being its lack of watertight windows).

The final result looked a little like a custom-built dodgem car from the side, and perhaps more like the French 2cv from the front.

Crucially, from behind, it gave him a car that looked nothing like any car that you might see coming off a factory production line: It was a vehicle more at home in a custom car show.

Brett had spent four years designing and building his car so that he could easily maneuver his wheel chair up a short ramp at the back and into a position that enabled him to drive his ICV – or Individual Constructed Vehicle – with his family squeezed in to the limited space around him. Then the wheelchair is locked in position in the car with the controls designed to suit Brett’s particular needs.

While Brett is capable of using his unique vehicle in all sorts of situations including maintaining his professional identity as a Senior Research Scientist with the CSIRO, he felt that a new project might give him an even more useful mode of transport that would, literally bring him closer to his family, and bring distant places within reach.

In order to achieve that, Brett decided to work on the adaptation of a larger vehicle, less idiosyncratic in its design perhaps, but which will provide better visibility on the road, be weatherproof, and importantly, provide more space for his growing daughters.

For Brett, at home in the hilly suburb of Corinda, other simpler wheelchairs and mobility aids, continue to perform well in day-to-day domestic duties – such as walking the dog. His hobby as an artist is also assisted by careful positioning of his easels and canvases so that he might move round the house in his wheelchair, paintbrush in hand.

Brett’s desire to design ever more appropriate ways to lead a creative life has proved that disabilities need not be a hindrance to seeking a fulfilling and purposeful life. And, it seeks to remind us that design should not just be about producing artifacts that declare the owner as a person of taste, style and wealth. Design needs to be about improving people’s lives, no more, no less.

Photo credit:
All images by Dr Charles Zuber
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