After many years and many obstacles, I have finally started the process of learning how to drive. It is the most exhausting and exciting thing I have done. Learning to drive at the age of 16 has become a right-of-passage here in America for many teenagers. Many Americans look forward to taking driver’s education and getting behind the wheel, but just like anything for people with disabilities, learning to drive is extremely expensive, has its obstacles and if you can overcome those obstacles, is an overall long process.
Fun fact: if you are a person with a disability and need to be able to drive to maintain employment, your local vocational rehabilitation office have resources available or may be able to help you with the process of learning how to drive and obtain a modified vehicle. Read more about the process of testing driving and purchasing an accessible vehicle.
Thanks to my Quantum® Edge® 3 Wheelchair with iLevel® technology and my local vocational rehabilitation office, I started the process of learning how to drive back in January. When I started this journey, I was nervous because I attempted to drive once before, and it didn’t go very well. I knew this time would be different because I knew what to expect and I now have a better understanding of my own abilities and limitations.
I knew for sure that I wanted to drive directly from my wheelchair. This would give me the freedom and safety of not having to transfer while also giving me the chance to use iLevel (I will take any excuse I can to use it) to see appropriately above the dashboard.
Luckily, when my family upgraded our modified vehicle a couple of years ago, we were able to purchase the ramp and lockdown system I needed to lock in my chair independently.
Another thing that I knew that was going to be different this time was that I knew I had options. All the different options available for hand controls and navigating the accelerator and the brake truly amaze me. There are even joysticks that control the gas and brake. So far, we have decided that what works best for me is a boat lever type control. I push forward for the accelerator and pull back for the brake.
As for steering, I use a zero-effort steering wheel with a spinner grip that also has buttons for the secondary controls such as the windshield wipers and turn signals.
My running joke throughout this whole process has been how easy able-bodied people make driving look. I have learned from my experience that driving is anything but easy. When you are driving, your mind is constantly in motion. You have to stay focused on the road and ensure the vehicle stays within the correct lane. The zero-effort steering wheel requires you to be constantly in check of the steering and make minor adjustments as you go because when the steering wheel is altered slightly, it wipes out any of the sensors built in to the default steering wheel.
Learning to drive as a person with a disability may be an exhausting experience but it’s one that is totally worth it, giving me more freedom than I could ever imagine.
About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzy for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Isabella.