When all my friends were learning how to drive in high school, driving seemed like a far-reaching reality. In fact, it was not until the age of 24 that I got my driver's license. I wanted to share my road to driving, to not only give those of you some ideas, but to also offer some reassurance that (though it can feel like a long road of planning and thinking of creative adaptations that will work for you), driving is definitely a possitibility for people with disabilities. And it's one that provides not only independence, but confidence!
Getting my license was only a small piece of the puzzle when it came to figuring out how to make driving work. I use a wheelchair for mobility at work and when going out for long distances and walk with forearm crutches at home and short distances. So I needed a vehicle that would allow me to both transport my wheelchair and accommodate my small stature (I'm under 4 feet tall).
Osteogenesis Imperfecta is a genetic disorder leaving bones prone to fracture. So, when it came to figuring out how to make driving work, finding a safe vehicle was also on the top of my list. My husband, also a wheelchair user, was going to be driving the same vehicle, so we needed something that would work for both of us.
Whew, that was a pretty big wish list to tackle.
Here's how we did it:
We shopped around..... a LOT. We looked at vans, SUVs, pick-ups, cars, foreign, domestic. You name it, we probably tried it! We drove around car lots and asked sales people to show us LOTS of options. It was definitely necessary to get in and out of the car to see what transferring in and out of our wheelchairs would be like, and what kind of lift would work with which type of vehicle. We finally settled on a Honda Element. The suicide doors on both sides allow my husband to sit in the driver or passenger side, fold his chair and lift it into the back seat while the big back end opens up tall enough to accommodate the wheelchair lift that I use to load and unload my chair.
We worked through a local trucking company to find our Bruno lift. It's operated by a remote control that allows you to go up and down, in and out. A hook grabs onto the seat of my wheelchair when folded up, and the lift basically swings out and slowly lowers the chair to the ground.
We asked a local custom upholstery shop to help us out with a cushion. We needed something lightweight and easy to swap out, depending on whether my husband or I needed to drive. The upholstery place was very accommodating, taking precise measurements to make sure they could put together something that fit both me and the existing seat of our vehicle. The result is light weight, easy to move, and comes with a strap that wraps around our existing drivers' seat to make sure my custom seat stays put when driving.
The pedals also needed adaptations. Since both my husband and I share the vehicle, we needed pedals that would work for both of us. My dad (who is a master mechanic), likes getting creative with adaptations! My legs are shorter than average, so we left the existing pedals for my husband to use while driving and screwed on pedal extenders over the existing pedals for me to be able to reach. It's also easy to unscrew them if we ever need to take them off to use in another vehicle.
A little creativity, a lot of open mindedness ,and a few adaptations can get you on the road to driving in no time!
Have you gotten creative with vehicle adaptations? Share in the comments!