Driving Again - Part 2

The next hurdle, in my driving again journey, was to meet with Vocational Rehab of Florida. The Brain and Spinal Cord Foundation of Florida put me in contact with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). This program is a federal-state program that helps people with physical or mental disabilities gain employment or return to the workforce after injury. VR is committed to helping people with disabilities find meaningful careers.

A variety of services are provided by VR, depending on specific needs. My challenge of financially securing a van and modifications were assisted through Vocational Rehabilitation.

During this process my anticipation and excitement could be compared to a joy of a child waiting for a weekend retreat at the beach. The appointment time finally arrived. It was a long and somewhat boring meeting; filled with general questions and information (no driving excitement in this meeting--just paperwork). The entire meeting I was still thinking like that young child and wondering whether these questions would end so we could start talking about the vehicle. It took about one hour. The meeting concluded with the VR Counselor informing me of the lengthy process my application would go through. It could take a month or two before he heard something. How could I ever contain my excitement for that long?

Over the next few months I reached out to my VR Counselor a few times. Each time it seemed as if good news was slipping through my grasp. I was slowly releasing my dream of driving again--as I did not want to be disappointed.

It was late June (ten months had passed since my first evaluation) when I received a call informing me that my application had been approved! The wait had been emotional (to say I was surprised by this news would be a huge understatement). I was informed that I would be responsible for the purchase of the van and Vocational Rehabilitation would cover the cost of the modifications. This moment in my life was certainly a game changer! For the first time I really allowed myself to believe that I would actually drive again. That same day I started shopping for a van. After much consideration, I purchased a Honda Odyssey. The van was sent directly to Advanced Driving Systems in Tallahassee where the computer systems and modifications were installed.

After all the months of waiting, the paperwork, the ups and downs of emotions, here I was at the final stretch and time seemed to literally stand still. I received a call from Advanced Driving Systems to visit Tallahassee for a final “fitting and training” session. I was scheduled for four days in mid-October to sit behind the wheel of my van, yes I said it for the first time, MY van! Those two words screamed INDEPENDENCE!

When I arrived in Tallahassee at Advanced Driving Systems I was filled with a mixed emotions; an accumulation of hope, fear, and pride. I did not completely understood how it was all possible. How would I get in the van? Close the door? Buckle the seat belt? I wasn’t even sure how I would start the ignition?

The first day we spent the majority of the day making sure that my wheelchair could roll into the van and secure automatically in the driver's side. The seat was removed from the vehicle and I automatically locked in with the Perma-lock locking system in front of the steering wheel. The seat belt is already buckled in and measured exactly so that when I lock in, the steering wheel and the belt are already in place. They put a key fob on my chair with nothing else but a quadriplegic’s best adaptive friend, Velcro. I can open and close the Van door with this.

Once my chair is locked in place, I press the remote and close the van door. From here I start the vehicle by using the newly installed small touch screen computer that is installed between the steering wheel and the driver side window. Next, the most amazing part of this entire set up! EMC (Electronic Mobility Controls). Sometimes this technology is referred to as “Drive-by-Wire” driving controls. “Drive-by-Wire” can be defined as the movements made by the driver are transmitted mechanically, sometimes by a joystick in place of a steering wheel. The movements or drivers commands are sensed and converted into a digital electronic signal that is transmitted to intelligent Drive Modules that, in turn, command intelligent Electromechanical Servos to steer the front wheels. This technology is nothing short of a miracle!

There are many tools and modifications I use daily to help improve my quality of life. My van by far is my most valuable piece of equipment. I experience independence with driving. My van also allows me a greater level of success in my career. I am grateful for all the brilliant minds and resources that made my van a reality.


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