In this series, I want to introduce my personal heroes who deserve recognition and inspire you to do right by the world, even though it sometimes feels like our efforts might not make even the smallest difference. Believe me, they all do. Happy reading!
Our paths crossed with Róbert Balušík from Slovakia for the first time in 2020, when we learned about his Joystick Car project – a chance for people with physical disabilities to independently drive a car. In 2021, we supported it with a sum of 50 000 CZK. In the meantime, he enchanted us with both his humility and ambition, which is the reason I decided to include him in our People we admire series.
What is a joystick car? It is an adaptation of a car from driving with a steering wheel into driving with a joystick for physically handicapped people who cannot hold or reach the steering wheel, engine start, pedals, or other car parts. When finished, Róbert’s goal was to offer the best
practices to the target group and ensure homologation in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. What’s more, he wished to lend the car to a driving school in the Czech Republic for the possibility of physically disabled people to obtain a driving license for it. Róbert Balušík set on this journey at the age of 23 and finished it in August 2022, owning and getting his own driving license for the first joystick car in Slovakia and Czechia.
Róbert is an entrepreneur who graduated in IT studies, currently working as a Strategic Projects Manager in LEAF Bratislava, focusing on uplifting start-up ecosystem in Slovakia along with providing mentoring & knowledge support for young professionals and students. Since his birth, Róbert has suffered with muscle and joint illness called arthrogryposis, but wished to lead as independent a life as possible. Arthrogryposis is a condition involving multiple joint contractures, where the range of motion of a joint is limited. It may be unable to fully or partially extend or bend.
After four years of jumping through bureaucratic, legal, financial and systematic hoops, Róbert managed to both have his car adjusted to joystick
in Germany and obtain his driving license in Přelouč, Czechia. It might be very important to realize here that Róbert was willing to take the road less travelled and bring a prototype of a vehicle that will undoubtedly help thousands of people with physical disability drive a car independently. How exactly does it work?
"I will control the car with a joystick. If I put my
elbow on it and pull towards myself, I increase the speed. I can brake by moving it forward and as soon as I tilt the joystick to the side, the steering
wheel turns. I use my voice to control the turn signals, wipers, horn, windows, engine start and air conditioning.”
Before the project got to a successful finish, Róbert had to:
- Travel to Germany to try out driving a joystick
car, where he drove for five days and whopping 960 km.
- Invest 2.5 million CZK to have his car adjusted.
Through his own efforts, he was able to collect 30 000 EUR out of this sum with a public donation campaign.
- Travel back to Germany to have his own car
adjusted. The Paravan GmbH company fixed his vehicle up with a SPACE DRIVE II driving system, suitable for this purpose due to its sensitivity and
- Find a driving instructor willing to undergo a
special, 2-week training in Germany to be able to guide him through the process of obtaining his driving license. Luckily, he found an instructor in a driving school in Přelouč. Finishing this course and helping Róbert was the swan song of his career, making it a really special moment.
- And finally, travel to Czechia to obtain his
driving license, the first one of its type in Slovakia and Czechia.
Watch a video of Róbert driving the car with his driving license for the first time here.
What’s next? After the completion of his project, Róbert knows there is still a long journey for people with a disability to get their hands on a joystick car and a driving license to use it. The main reason is the price – the whole journey is incredibly expensive and unimaginable for a person with a regular or lower-than-regular salary. He himself didn’t, unfortunately, get any financial support from the state. Another problem is the fact that even though there exists a way to adjust a steering wheel car to a joystick one, it
is still impossible to perform it in Slovakia and Czechia due to problems with safety permits and other bureaucratic obstacles. Germany remains the closest country to allow and perform this transformation.
Róbert has the guts to fight for a systemic change now. The aim is to bring the best practices and the possibility of owning a joystick car and getting a license to drive it for affordable prices to people in Slovakia and Czechia. Róbert does not beat around the bush and tries to talk to and achieve change directly with the Slovak parliament.
What incredible effort and results from a young man who is simply trying to help! I highly recommend keeping an eye on his professional
journey. I have a feeling we will be very surprised by his achievements in the future.
Róbert Balušík’s own photographs