The Permanent Passenger

I have never been a car person. While they are cool to look at, cars have always been a matter of function over form for me, partly because I do not drive. I believe there is a little more flexibility in the adaptive driving space in terms of brand variety. It almost always boils down to what type of minivan best suits your needs.

Tim drives his Edge 3 Power Wheelchair up the ramp

Every power wheelchair user knows that a functioning adaptive vehicle is better than a pretty one. My first adaptive van was 1995 Chevy G20 Hightop LE. We bought it from a family friend and converted it for accessibility. The industry standard at the time was a vertical platform lift, not a ramp. You see the same kind of lift on buses. The lift frequently broke down, but it worked and I remember it fondly. I miss playing CRT TV and Super Nintendo in the backseat. Since then, I have had two Toyota Sienna minivans (2006 and 2016) with the modern ramp style. If you want to watch a video of me getting into my van, click here.

The purpose of this post is not to recount memories of past automobiles but to provide insight into why I do not drive. The year was 2007 and I was an impressionable high school junior who had found peace in shaggy haircuts, dark hoodies, emo music (this has no relevance to the story, but it’s interesting to look back on this time in my life). That year brought an interesting challenge: driver’s education. Fast forward a few months and I failed my permit test by two questions. This confirmed my decision to abstain from driving. The reason for my choice has evolved over time. Back then, it was due to financial constraints. Purchasing and modifying a car was prohibitively expensive at the time, although slightly less so now.

Tim drives his Edge 3 Power Wheelchair into his accessible van

College birthed a more realistic realization: cerebral palsy is difficult.  I do not talk about it often but living alone in a college dorm room with minimal assistance was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I pushed through certain limitations and understood that others were there for a reason. One such limitation is the Moro Reflex, which causes people with cerebral palsy to startle easily upon hearing loud noises or after prolonged periods of focus. What started as and remains a fun quirk has serious potentially negative consequences when applied to driving. My reflex causes both my hands to go up in the air. Imagine an ambulance or police car driving by unexpectedly. With only one moderately functioning left hand, driving would be hard enough and having to expect the unexpected every day is virtually impossible. I decided then that being a permanent passenger was safer for myself and for those around me.

These days, I am even more comfortable as a passenger because driving looks stressful. I have been in the back seat with a variety of different drivers. It’s the other motorists that fill me with the most anxiety. Will I ride in the car? Absolutely! I do not have to bear, however, the burden of ensuring safe passage.

Still, fully autonomous vehicles are closer than ever before and poised to be a boon for people with disabilities. In the meantime, however, I still have my tried-and-true Quantum Edge® 3 Power Wheelchair.

About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ and uses an Edge® 3 Power Wheelchair to maintain his independence and mobility. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.