Ahead of the 25th European Social Services Conference (ESSC), ESN took the chance to speak with keynote speaker Charlotte de Vilmorin, a wheelchair user who decided to overcome her everyday challenges and those of other wheelchair users by creating the social enterprise Wheeliz.
Q:What everyday challenges do you face that led you to create the social enterprise Wheeliz?
A: As a life-long wheelchair user, I have always had difficulties getting around, given that the vast majority of public transport services are not accessible. With a wheelchair, you cannot travel without an adapted vehicle, but such cars are very expensive (sometimes more than €100,000). Pooling these vehicles therefore means that anyone who needs one can get around more easily.
Q: What is Wheeliz? And what difference has it made to the life of other wheelchair users?
A: Wheeliz is the first site allowing the rental of adapted vehicles for wheelchair users. We enable the owners of vehicles with ramps or special controls to rent them out directly to other wheelchair users, anywhere in France and at an affordable cost. The prices are three times lower than from conventional rental companies. This way, you can find a car that meets your needs, from a half-day to over a month, for a weekend away or for totally independent holidays.
Q: How important was your own perspective as a wheelchair user in building Wheeliz?
A: “If you want something done right, you’d best do it yourself!” Although there’s plenty of talk about the collaborative economy, innovation and connecting individuals, there was nothing on the market for those with wheelchairs. I think this is a world unknown to most entrepreneurs who cannot apprehend the need for such services.
Q: How can local authorities and social services providers help users to take control of their services?
A: Local authorities have a key role to play, as it is they who guarantee the independence of people with disabilities (social, technical and financial support) so that each individual can live their life in their own way. Wheeliz is an incredible example of what can be achieved, and a real show of equality between citizens with and without disabilities.
You can find out more on Wheeliz and Charlotte’s experience when she speaks at the third plenary session of the ESSC. Charlotte will be part of a session which will examine outside-the-box approaches to service user involvement.