The View From Here (23-01)

justine sitting in her car smiling wearing a black dress

By: Justine Chichester

“Instead of constantly adapting to change, why not change to be adaptive?” – Fred Emery, Australian Psychologist

For the first time in 15 years, I finally got a new car. This was the first time I purchased a car as someone living with a disability, and it was really an eye-opener to the entire process. Up until the end of last year, I was driving the car I had before my disability, because after my injury, I had learned how to get in and out of that car from my wheelchair; I learned how to break down my wheelchair and put it in that car myself; and I learned how to drive using hand controls in that same car. The process of installing hand controls into a car is expensive and time consuming. I had to take 6 weeks of driving lessons in order to learn how to use the hand controls, and then spend thousands of dollars to have the hand controls installed in that car. Luckily, at the time, I was assisted by the Florida Brain and Spine Program to help out with the coordination and with the cost.

Now, 5 years later, it was time to get a new car. I went to the dealership, just to see which car was the easiest to get in and out of. After intensive physical therapy throughout these years, I am now able to walk using a walker or a cane, so the wheelchair is no longer an issue for me to get in and out of a car. However, I still need to use hand controls to drive. So, I wasn’t able to actually test drive the car, once I found one that was easy for me to get in and out of, because no new cars at the dealers come equipped with hand controls. That was the first hurdle to overcome. I could get in the car, I could sit behind the wheel, but I couldn’t actually drive it.

Once I decided on the new car, and we made the deal, the dealership was kind enough to deliver the car to our home, knowing I was unable to actually drive it yet. And…there it sat, in my driveway for over a week while I coordinated having hand controls installed in the car. Probably one of the more frustrating things I’ve dealt with since my spinal cord injury. Purchasing a new car and not being able to drive it. This was the second hurdle I had to overcome in this process.

Luckily, I was able to coordinate with In Motion Mobility, an appointment to bring my new car in, to have hand controls installed. The cost of the hand controls is over $2,000. The third hurdle to overcome in this car buying process. So, not only have I spent all of this money on a new car, now I have to spend even more money to have it retrofitted, so I can actually drive it. My husband drove my new car to In Motion Mobility for me and, once we got the car there, the process went smoothly. They were wonderful and retrofitted my car with the new hand controls and, after a test drive, I was finally….finally able to drive my new car.

I bring all of this up to hopefully highlight the obstacles we, as people living with disabilities, face every single day. Not just the obstacles, or the excess costs, but the sheer frustration of having to retrofit our lives just so that we can be independent. It’s a struggle that will hopefully get better and better as there is more awareness and more issues, such as this one, are brought to light. On that note, Hyundai and other car manufacturers are offering a $1,000 rebate to those of us who install new, adaptive equipment in any new vehicle. It’s a start, in my opinion. I’ve completed and sent in the form. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what happens next.

The final hurdle to overcome in this process will be returning the car, as it is a lease vehicle. Minor modifications had to be made to the steering column to accommodate the hand controls. It is said that there will be a fee when I return the car because of these modifications. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what happens with that as well.