Hertz called on to re-introduce disability-friendly hand controlled cars
Sue Salthouse was frustrated she could not get a car suited to her needs from Hertz. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)
Hiring a car is usually an unremarkable experience, but for Sue Salthouse, who has paraplegia, the simple task became impossible after a hire car company decided to scrap its fleet of hand-controlled cars, commonly used by people in wheelchairs.
- Disability advocate unable to get hand-controlled car
- Hertz stopped offering them several years ago
- Calls for hire company to reintroduce disability friendly cars
Ms Salthouse is a former Canberra Citizen of the Year and chairs Women with Disabilities ACT, but on this occasion, she was just trying to get to a funeral.
Her plan was simple: Fly from Canberra to Adelaide, hire a hand-controlled car at the airport, and then drive to the funeral destination in Victor Harbour — a one-and-a-half-hour drive.
But she hit a roadblock.
“I went to Hertz because that was the company I’d hired cars from previously, only to find that they had taken all the hand-controlled cars out of their fleet,” she said.
Instead of the car she needed, she was offered a car with a wheelchair ramp.
At home in Canberra, Sue Salthouse uses her own hand-controlled car. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)
But the alternative option was inadequate for Ms Salthouse’s needs, and her first thought was, “well, who will drive?”.
“They had made an assumption that people with disabilities don’t drive,” she said.
She was angered by the move by Hertz to scrap the cars, saying it was a “retrograde step”.
“They’ve made a decision to go backwards,” she said.
“We [people with a disability] really want to be able to be as independent as possible. That’s how we can maximise our participation in the community.
“There are many things that are not supplied yet, and they’re matters of advocacy and negotiation, but when you think there’s a battle that’s been won, and then you realise that you’ve gone backwards, that’s a really hard lesson.”
In the end, Ms Salthouse was able to find another provider of hand-controlled hire cars, and will use that instead.
But she still felt “cross” about her experience with Hertz.
In a statement to the ABC, a Hertz spokesperson said it reached the decision to no longer offer hand-controlled vehicles in Australia several years ago because the company lacks the expertise to properly install the functions.
“We don’t have the expertise to adjust the hand controls of vehicles to safely and legally meet an individual’s needs,” the spokesperson said.
The company disputed claims that it assumes people in wheelchairs are exclusively passengers, saying “Hertz makes no assumptions about peoples’ driving abilities”.
The statement further said the company “regrets not being able to provide the service” and highlighted that it does offer wheelchair accessible vehicles for customers intending to travel as a passenger.