When Rolling Inspiration asked Aye-Htun Ohn why he chose a Toyota Fortuner, he did not even pause to think about it – “reliability, efficiency, space and comfort”. He heads North of our borders as often as he can and with the previous vehicles that he has owned, he has struggled to find spares when a breakdown occurred... “Toyota is everywhere and everyone knows how to fix them”.  But, so far he hasn’t needed to have it fixed!

Aye-Htun was born with spina bifida but they forgot to tell him that he had a disability!  His condition never stops him from doing what he wants and his energy and drive is way beyond what most people would consider possible. While travelling in Canada and America recently, he refused to be squashed into the ‘disability box’ and he drove the over cautious Americans mad!  He used the escalators, which wheelchairs are banned from and refused to be limited to the accessible hotel rooms and cabs. Aye-Htun was also not inclined to stay on the accessible trails in the national parks as he wanted to see the view from the top!  Having played basketball at the highest levels and participating in the 2000 Paralympics and 2001 World Championship, he has always been extremely fit.  He then discovered a love for the outdoors and in particular the mountains and rock climbing.  After climbing Mount Halta in Austria, sleeping under the stars in the snow - he set his sights on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. While looking for a suitable wheelchair for this expedition, he came across off-road hand cycles, which lead to his latest addiction, hand cycling.   Completing the Cape Argus Cycle Tour, the 94.7, the OCC challenge and the Tour de Kaap (557 km in 6 days) all within the last six months, he is once again challenging the notions of what people with disabilities are supposed to be able to do.

With his love for adventure and his need to transport a large hand cycle as well as his day chair, he required a spacious 4x4 vehicle that would suit his lifestyle. In addition, the 4x4’s are high, making it a challenge to get into and out of if one is using a wheelchair – but the only time that has been a problem for Aye-Htun was after he had finished the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. For a rock climber, the 92 cm high seat is not really an obstacle.  He has a short body so he finds that the extra height gives him far greater visibility when driving, especially compared to his previous sports car.  He finds the driving position particularly comfortable with the elbow supports on the driver’s door, perfectly positioned for driving with a right-hand hand control. He loves the six-way electric seat adjustments on the driver’s seat, as his previous car had a round knob which he had to roll to recline the seat. He also had to replace this mechanism on an annual basis because he reclines his seat every time he loads his wheelchair into or out of the car.

The height makes loading his hand cycle into the back of the vehicle more difficult, but he deals with this problem by parking the car on an incline with the rear higher than the front, when he lifts the hand cycle into the back, it rolls forward into the vehicle. The middle seats of the Toyota Fortuner are easily folded forward with a 60:40 split, which gives him the versatility of still having some rear seat space with one side folded forward to accommodate a hand cycle.  He is unable to reach the boot door to close it when it is open; however, a simple strap tied to the door solves this problem.  

A key factor in his choice of car is the space that the Toyota Fortuner offers.  Being a very sociable person, he needs plenty of space for friends and family, especially as he is usually the designated driver.  The Toyota Fortuner has two flip up seats at the rear, making it a five- seater with massive boot space, or a seven- seater with a smaller boot space. When he goes on holiday, Aye-Htun loves the fact that he no longer has to pack – he just throws everything in.

Aye-Htun finds that the 3.0l diesel engine provides plenty acceleration when you need it and is remarkably efficient for the size of the vehicle – “as long as you don’t drive it like a hooligan”. On his recent trip to Cape Town for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour, he got 8.4l/100kms, although he does find it surprising that on such a modern car, the automatic gearbox only has four gears, as more gears should improve the efficiency.

He drives the 2012 Heritage Edition of Toyota Fortuna, which has a ‘brilliant’ rear view camera integrated into the Bluetooth sound system. The rear camera is a great feature for a short person in a high vehicle. Compared to the other Bluetooth systems that he has used, he finds that this one has the best connectivity with his iPhone and iPad and it gives exceptionally clear sound, even in heavy rain. Surprisingly, however, the sound system is of poor quality. Unfortunately, for Aye-Htun, his model does not have climate control, it only has a regular air conditioner, but this feature is available on some of the other Toyota Fortuner models. It has a cruise control option, which makes for easy driving with a hand control on long distances, as well as more efficiency and it saves on speeding fines! Having the audio controls, Multi Information Display and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel, is a bonus for anyone driving with hand controls.

Aye-Htun gets to use the 4x4 features of the vehicle approximately every two months when he escapes the city limits. The excellent 4x4 capability of theToyota Fortuna enables even novice drivers to look like experts when they get onto 4x4 terrains. It takes some of the challenge out of 4x4 driving as you just “put it in low range and then point and shoot.  You need to do something really stupid to get the Toyota Fortuner stuck”!

In Aye-Htun’s previous job, he did a lot of travelling and frequently needed to make use of hired cars, so he uses a set of Z2 portable hand controls which he ordered off the Sport Aid website. He has interchanged these between the last five cars that he has owned, and he finds that the pedal design of the Toyota Fortuner is particularly well suited to the clamps of the portable controls, as it has a relatively flat pedal. The cup holder next to the steering wheel provides the perfect angle to attach the strap of the hand control, in a position that is most comfortable for Aye-Htun. The hand control on the right side it makes it awkward to reach the indicator which is also on the right, a left indicator would suit him better. There is no shortage of cup holders in the Toyota Fortuna, suggesting that a lot of planning has gone into creating a user friendly vehicle.

The Toyota Fortuner is available in five variants of automatic – the 2.5 D-4D, 3.0 D-4D, or 4.0 V6, with the 3.0 and 4.0 also available in 4x4. The prices range from R374 100 for the 2.5 Auto and R499 100 for the 3.0 4x4 Auto. Since the vehicle is produced locally, it does not qualify for the full disability rebate, only the smaller Ad Valorem Excise Duties rebate.  The Toyota Fortuner continues to be the most popular SUV on the market with the highest number of sales in this category, in January 2014.  It is not a glamorous sports car, however, its comfort, practicality and reliability has certainly made it popular. When driving around Centurion, it seems that almost everyone has one. According to Aye-Htun, “it is a test to see if girls will like me for who I am and not for my car!”

Many of the features are perfect for drivers with disabilities; however, the driver has to be a particularly strong person to transfer into and out of it. One disadvantage that Aye-Htun finds when driving a Toyota Fortuner is that nobody believes that he is mobility impaired, so when he parks in a disabled parking bay, he gets plenty of dirty looks until he pulls out his wheelchair.