Case Study

Paralympic swimmer Ellie Challis learns to drive with bespoke driving adaptations

Ellie Challis, 18, from Clacton-On-Sea became Paralympics GB’s youngest medalist at the  2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Ellie reached the podium in the Women’s S3 50m Backstroke on her Games debut – and she continues to hold one world record and multiple British best after an impressive first few years in international competition.  

In September 2022 Ellie purchased her first car, a Sirus Ford Internal Transfer and is currently having driving lessons with bespoke driving adaptations. Ellie lives in central Manchester, so her own car is essential for her to be able to carry out her intense training schedule, and side entry access was also a must to enable on-street parking. Ellie tells us why driving is so important to her and her career as a record-breaking swimmer.

used wheelchair accessible vehicles

“I got my car on 14th September 2022 and I am currently learning to drive with my bespoke driving adaptations installed by Sirus. I drive using my push/pull hand controls, a cup on the steering wheel, a bleeper system which operates the indicators, lights, horn etc. My lessons are going really well so far and I have my theory test tomorrow!

Independence of driving 

The main reason I want to drive is because I travel a lot for competitions and training. Public transport is not accessible and I have had so many issues travelling independently. I have been left on trains so many times and the assistance provided can be terrible, to the point where I cannot get any connecting trains at the risk of being left on a train and ending up in the wrong city! This is very scary, especially when I have to travel alone late at night. My boyfriend and my dad have to drive me everywhere so it will be so nice when I can finally drive myself.

The pool where I train is in central Manchester so I have to get there six days a week. Plus my family and my boyfriend live Newmarket so I have to travel to see them. I am currently training for the forthcoming trials which are in Sheffield in March for the World Championships in August.

driving adaptations

Driving adaptations

After quite a long wait with my local driving assessment centre I was referred to Derby Drivability. I had an assessment and they recommended what driving adaptations I would need. I got my provisional driving licence on the first day I could get it back in January 2020. I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible but didn’t really know where to get a car. I had to pause things whilst I competed in 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, but as soon as we could, my dad contacted Motability and they recommended Sirus.

driving adaptations

My car was delivered in four weeks

Once we got in touch with Sirus they whole process went really smoothly. I booked a home demonstration in August, and I was so happy to find out I could have the car that I wanted in just four weeks! So my adapted car was delivered to me in September 2022.  Navigating the process of being assessed, learning to drive and finding a suitable car wasn’t easy but with Sirus we really felt the process was easy. Plus we were really happy they were not only providing the converted car, but carrying out my driving adaptations too. So if we did ever have any issues we could just speak to one company.

Ford Grand Tourneo Connect

I really didn’t want to drive a van. Growing up we had a big nine-seater VW Transporter, there was no way I was going to learn to drive in one of those. I am an 18 year old girl, so of course I wanted to drive a nice car. The Sirus Ford Grand Tourneo Connect is smaller and is really great to drive!

Parking in the city  

With this car and the side entry access I can easily park on the street, which is essential as I live in Manchester city centre. I was worried how this would work in a rear entry WAV, you can put a sign on the back but people don’t always read them. I had a fear that if someone parked behind me I would be stuck and wouldn’t be able to get in! Side entry access is so easy to get in and out. If I want to use a car park I can park on the end, plus with the short ramp there is plenty of space to get in and out using a Blue Badge bay. The ramp is really low too, so it is really easy to use.

Boot space and rear seats

I have got a boot for the first time ever! (My wheelchair always went in the boot). Plus I have back seats too. I have family, friends, my boyfriend… so of course having passenger seats is really important. It is so nice to have me plus three other people in the car. Sirus also fitted an electric boot opener which is brilliant and means I can operate it independently.

 Ford wav

Travelling as a passenger and sharing the driving

When I’m not driving I can easily travel in the front passenger seat and my dad can drive. This was really important to us, but we didn’t know how it would work. But he can drive the car even though my driving adaptations are fitted.

Ford wav interior

Sirus service

The Sirus service has been really good, things have gone really quickly and smoothly which was a huge positive for me as I’d waited so long up until that point. Now I have it I wouldn’t want any other car!”

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