Driving Again After Spinal Cord Injury


Adapted Ford Ranger IMG_5919

When it came to driving, the only thing I saw myself operating was a power wheelchair and I wasn’t even good at that.  This is how I saw it: Pedals are operated with feet, steering wheel turned with fingers gripped, and backing up meant twisting around to see what’s behind you.  No way I could drive a car when I couldn’t walk or even hold my balance…

Then, I saw a C-6 quad jump into his red hot convertible Mitsubishi Spyder, take his chair apart, and drive away.  “Cool!!!” I said and added “When can I do that?” to my list of favorite phrases.

Today, 12 years later, I drive a candy blue Ford Ranger. I love how I got to pick out the vehicle I wanted and get it adapted so that it could become an extension of me.  I wasn’t ready for the convertible, given that my transfers were still pretty amateur but, with the help of an adaptive driving specialist, I “adapted” my thinking and chose a truck and added the bells and whistles to get me on the road again.

Driving is possible.  In thinking about the whole process I put together some steps, with some input from others, as a guide to helping someone get back behind the wheel.  It takes time and doesn’t happen over night but following these steps should help get you where you want to go.

1.   Let the dust settle.

So many times in the first couple years, I begged God to let me feel the sand between my toes and to let me experience just one more time the feeling of running until I lost my breath.  I was so restless after I got out of the hospital that every challenge frustrated me.  Any opportunity to get back my former life I pursued with haphazard passion. And so did loved ones around me.  We all wanted to be back to normal.  We didn’t know what the steps were; we just saw where we wanted to be and like a bull to a cape, ran for the normalcy we yearned for.  We hit walls, made mistakes, fought, broke down, and cried may times. But that is what rehabilitation is for. It’s a byproduct of growth and while you are going through the hell of it all, the best thing to do is to avoid being impulsive. (Which is very hard to do!)  Please take my advice, DO NOT BUY A CAR RIGHT NOW.  Not until the dust has settled and you have thought it through and followed these steps.  I speak from experience and you will thank me, I promise!

2.   Dream.

But don’t let that restless energy go to waste either.  Dream.  Dream about where you want to be.  Brainstorm ideas about how to get there and write them down in a journal to track your progress.  Use this time to learn about your abilities and work toward maximizing your mobility.  Don’t worry that you need help or use the bus or other modes of transportation because you’ve got your plan and are working towards it.

Choosing your own vehicle is like choosing your own pair of shoes.  Think about the vehicle that fits you, that works for you, one that you like and, yes, one you can afford.  It’s a taller order than choosing between Nike and Converse but it is do-able.  Fortunately, every year more adaptations are being developed for accessible vehicles so there are lots of choices.  Even if you drive a power wheelchair, there are many options for you.

Glide n Go seat3.   Learn.

What are others driving? How did they do it?  You can learn a lot from others and can gain a lot of support and inspiration from just talking.  What knowledge do other wheelchair users have about the process of driving again?  What equipment do they use and how did they pay for it?  Talk to as many people as you can. Granted, being in a larger city helps because there’s likely more wheelchair users around but you can also connect with people online.  You can also send me your questions and I’ll give you my take 🙂

4.    Seek out an adapted driving evaluator

NMEDA (National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association) requires that any actual driving equipment purchase through a member dealer be approved by a driving evaluator.  This means that you have to meet with an adapted driving instructor/evaluator and demonstrate your ability to operate hand controls or any other driving equipment safely.  The purpose is to ensure the safety of you, your passengers, and others on the road and to reduce liability for the dealer.

5.    Figure out how to pay for it

If you look solely at the numbers, adapted driving is a bit expensive.  Vocational RehabilitationVeteran’s benefits, worker’s compensation, and adapted equipment rebates from most vehicle brands help cut down the cost considerably.  There are also lending companies that help with loans for adapted equipment.  Check out what is available in your area.

Bruno lift6.    Buy your car and get it modified

Enough said but be careful and don’t buy a used car over 65K miles if you expect to have the mods paid for by one or more of the above resources.  I went through 2 vehicles before I was given the proper information about this, costing my family around $10K total.  I made some mistakes early on, which is why I am writing this.

Anyway, when you’re ready, go get your vehicle!  You will have to buy your vehicle because in most cases, only modifications will be covered.

7.    Driver’s training and driver’s license

For me, driver’s training was very helpful because I was a new driver when I had my car accident so I was essentially starting over.  States have different laws when it comes to adapted driving.  Most require some sort of verification that you are able to operate a vehicle safely (either doctor’s signature on a form or a note from the driving evaluator) and yes, they require proof that you have a disability.  Check out your State’s requirements by going to their motor vehicle department’s website or by calling them directly.  Ask what requirements are there for in individual with a disability seeking a license.  Take the test, get your license and get ready to have fun!

8.    Enjoy your new found freedom!

Have fun!  You’ve earned it.  Now that you can drive, so many doors will open up to you.  Hopefully, through the process you’ve learned that there are still so many things you can do and that your opportunities for “normalcy” are well within your grasp.

One last thing, take care of your vehicle.  There are many factors that affect the lifetime of adapted vehicles- frequency and intensity of use, maintenance, heavy passengers or passengers using power wheelchairs- but you can maximize the life of your vehicle by following manufacturers  recommendations for tuneups and repairs and by paying attention to warranties.  In all, you’ll get the most out of your equipment with the better care you take of it.

Sources:

National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, http://www.NMEDA.com/how-to-buy

With input from Shannon King, RN, AdvisaCare and Brent from Handicap Vehicle Specialists in Arizona

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2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog, which is a very nice thing to do 🙂

Thanks WordPress!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Therapeutic Riding Program Gets Cowboy Back In The Saddle


Brad was born in the one-stoplight town of Milington, Michigan.  As a young man, he moved with his family to the Southwest where cattle was big business and where he learned to rope and ride.  He was a cowboy; a rough riding rodeo type who “was always up to something.”  On the Papago Reservation in Arizona, he worked the ranches with his father, training horses and rounding up cattle for the Pacific Livestock Auction.  He was a wrestler in high school and a boxer in the Army.  Slowing down was not in his vocabulary so when he moved back to Michigan, he got a job in construction and continued to ride as a hobby.

On Veteran’s Day three years ago, Brad was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest, down.  Unable to walk and with limited use of his hands, he left his job as project manager in a heating and cooling company and went looking for a place to live that was wheelchair accessible.  He moved to Evergreen Grove in Otter Lake. There he could live independently in a setting that was far from a nursing home, yet get the help he needed.

Brad wanted more than independence, though; he wanted his life back.  He did not want those important parts of his identity to be lost. He missed the outdoors, he missed boxing, and most importantly, he missed horses.  An online search revealed a number of programs out there for individuals with physical challenges.  O.A.T.S., Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, was a therapeutic horseback-riding program based in Clarkston, not too far away.  He signed up and within weeks his feet were back in the stirrups.

Brad on a horse

In 3 sessions, he was walking a horse in a round pen with volunteers and specialists.  “It took a couple tries for me to find my balance,” says Brad.  “I used a standard western saddle with no back and just a saddle horn so I had to learn different ways to keep upright.”  He found that Velcro straps around his wrists help him pull himself back into position, when the gait of the horse shifted him to the side.  This allowed him to ride 15-20 yards at a time with no assistance.

On the fifth session, his caregiver, Patty Gring of AdvisaCare got to come along. “I was beyond excited I cried. It was so amazing for me to see one of our clients up on a horse after all he has been through and see him work towards his dream. Just brings me so much joy.”

His success in the program opened up other doors for Brad.  Just recently, he acquired a heavy bag and has begun his journey back into boxing.  “Any plans for a career from here?” I asked.  “Yeah, but not in construction.” He plans to train his own horse and to open an adapted gym so that others with disabilities can learn to box.  “It’s great core exercise,” he says. “At first, I couldn’t hit a flea but not I have a pretty good swing!”

Brad is also in the process of writing a book about his life. With a pilot and fire bomber for a father and a childhood working with the Papago Indians in Arizona, as well as his adventures in the Army, his life has taken many interesting paths.  For Brad, each new element becomes just another chapter. He is a proud father and a driven cowboy, hanging his hat on great hopes for the future.

To learn more about O.A.T.S. or any of the other programs mentioned in this article, please visit the links below.

Cool Parents


There’s something very special trending in social media- parents are sharing photos of their children’s custom-made Halloween costumes.  Not only do these photographs make me smile because of the sheer creativity but there is something special going on here that touches my heart.

For centuries up to recent times, disabilities were viewed as something to shut away and hide or scoff at.  Children with cerebral palsy or spina bifida were sent to infirmaries, away from their families, to live out theirs days institutionalized. Professionals in the field believed they were doing a merciful deed but what they were really doing is fueling the fear and ignorance among society as a whole.

It’s an enlightening history lesson.

Fortunately, society is starting to accept what we all inherently know, if we just listen to our hearts- that individuals, whether they have disabilities or not, are people that deserve to be treated with care and love.  It’s a partnership, a teamwork and acceptance of challenges and denial of misguided assumptions. It’s taking two completely separate things: A beloved holiday for children and an essential mobility device and creating a costume that a child with a disability can enjoy. It’s showing society that Yes, you can have a normal interaction with an individual who looks different from you and, possibly most important of all, it is teaching children to love and care for each other and to think with their hearts and not their fears.  It’s this kind of love and compassion that moves mountains and changes lives and it’s encouraging to see the movement toward a more integrated world.

God bless these parents.

Here are a couple more of my favorites 🙂

 

Be Counted! (even if you can’t stand up)


Check this out!  The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation developed a website to count all the people living with paralysis and individuals who care about them.  Advocacy may influence policy but numbers are the agent of change.  You can visit the website here to add your name and location to the list.  If you look up Ashleigh in Phoenix, you’ll find me!

Sign up and be counted. Let the world know how big our community really is and how important it is to pay attention to us!  Everyone should do this.