A disabled people’s organisation is to recreate an historic journey in which a three-wheeled “invalid carriage” was driven across the Alps, in a bid to highlight cuts to disability benefits and problems caused by rising fuel prices.
Campaigners will repeat the epic, 1,500 mile journey of O A “Denny” Denly in 1947, in which he drove his petrol-driven Argson tricycle – which had a top speed of 30 miles per hour – from London to Switzerland, across the Alps to Geneva, and back to London.
Denly had planned to visit Switzerland when he took his first leave from the Royal Navy, but became disabled after contracting polio in Ceylon in 1945. After leaving hospital and securing a job as a hospital administrator, he decided to go ahead with the trip to Switzerland on his trike.
Denly, who died last year at the age of 86, was co-founder of the Invalid Tricycle Association (ITA), which later became the Disabled Drivers’ Association, and merged with the Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club in 2005 to become Mobilise.
Denly’s journey – which included a climb of almost 8,000 feet – will be retraced in June using his original trike, which has been restored by a member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who are based near Mobilise’s Norfolk headquarters.
The Alps Challenge will commemorate Denly’s life and achievements and raise awareness of the renaming of Mobilise as Disabled Motoring UK (DM UK) as well as highlighting rising fuel prices and government cuts to disability living allowance (DLA).
Members of DM UK, and disabled members of the armed services, will each drive a leg of the journey, which will start at the charity’s headquarters and end more than two weeks later at the Houses of Parliament, with the final leg driven by Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for DM UK, which campaigns on issues around the mobility of disabled people, said disabled motorists were being increasingly hit by rising fuel prices, while there were also “a lot of concerns about whether people will keep their DLA”.
She said the message of the Alps Challenge was that disabled people do not want to return to “how things used to be” in 1947, with severely restricted mobility.
She said: “Because many disabled people have to drive automatic vehicles and use larger vehicles which carry heavy equipment, the amount of fuel they have to use is disproportionate.
“We have people saying to us, ‘I have this wonderful car but it sits on my drive and I only use it when absolutely necessary.’”
The charity has asked the Treasury to introduce a VAT rebate on some of the fuel used by disabled drivers.
Dolphin said “Mobilise” had only ever been intended to be a temporary name. But the main reason for the change, she said, was that Mobilise was frequently mistaken for Motability, the charity which runs the disabled people’s car scheme. Mobilise members voted 574 to 30 in favour of the name change to Disabled Motoring UK.