Being rushed to the hospital as a new quadriplegic with a spinal cord injury was where my journey to regain independence began. How was I going to function on a daily basis without being able to move my fingers or hands or most of my body for that matter? Yet two years after my life-altering spinal cord injury, I am sitting in my wheelchair behind the wheel of this futuristic adapted van driving down the street.
Many people ask ‘How can you drive your van?’ Great question! Before I needed this specialized equipment, I had never seen any adapted van with a ramp and hand controls either. Individuals are shocked to see a ramp fold out the side door leading into my minivan. With no driver’s seat, my wheelchair locks into the floor where the driver’s seat used to be, the wheelchair is flanked by a touchscreen monitor and two adapted hand controls for driving the van.
This journey to drive independently has been a huge accomplishment for my personal independence and freedom. After years of riding on Special Transportation Service or STS, I dreamed of being able to transport myself and not rely on others. STS is a cheap, county-funded, accessible option, but STS picks you up and drops you off on their schedule. This resulted in being late, unnecessarily long rides, and even being left behind. I loathed using this inconsistent, inconvenient service. I didn’t have a chauffeur but what other options besides STS does a wheelchair-bound individual have?
While in rehabilitation, I watched as other individuals in wheelchairs with adapted vehicles were able to drive themselves. I desperately wanted that independence for myself. As I resumed taking classes in college, I was connected with vocational rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation connected me with an individual that gave me a driving assessment shortly thereafter. I passed the initial assessment using their foreign-looking adapted hand controls. I was thrilled that driving myself around was becoming a real possibility for me!
After the initial assessment, vocational rehabilitation approved paying for modifications to a new van! After waiting for the new van to be retrofitted, I started completing the required 50 training hours with a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist. After practicing my driving skills and completing my training, I drove everywhere independently afterwards.
My life changed drastically with my new ability to transport myself. Whether going to a class at school or a doctor’s appointment or going to work, I did not need to rely on anyone else to get there. This sense of independence fueled me to maximize my independence even more! Getting back on the road again changed my life!