By Ian Jones @IDJonesPhotog
“So, can you drive?”
I get that a lot. I can, but despite my age, I don’t — not yet. I have been working on it for a long time, though. Sometimes, I feel stuck in Neutral in the process, even though I’m really almost in Park. There’s a bunch of reasons it’s taken so long. My seizures being one. My anxiety issues being another. But really, the biggest reason is because an adapted vehicle costs so much. (The other reason is my seizures, which I won’t discuss in this particular column.)
Our current van has about thirty thousand dollars in adapted technology, on top of the usual MSRP. Our old van (used when we got it, so it was cheaper) probably had a similar amount of money invested in it. Thankfully, that portion is tax deductible as a medical expense, but “tax deductible” doesn’t equate to “free” – and I don’t exactly have sixty grand lying around.
Among other changes, adapted vans have a ramp so a person can drive their wheelchair in through the side door. Sounds simple enough, but if I were to do that in a regular van, I’d better hope for a moon roof: there’s no head room for a wheelchair user. To accommodate the wheelchair, the floor must literally be lowered significantly, ten inches or more. That is a large chunk of that extra thirty grand.
If you’re disabled, you better hope that you have a wealthy aunt or uncle who’s left you a lot of money in their will – otherwise, you’re likely going to be stuck with public transportation like Paratransit… Which is another column altogether. Sadly, most of the disabled population is at or below the poverty line.
And even though we’re encouraged to pull our own weight in society, with programs to assist us… when it comes down to us asking for that assistance, it feels almost as if the goal post gets moved. As a result, you learn to fight.
Take the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which is supposed to help people like me find jobs. My plan was simple. With their financial help, I’d to go to school, get a degree, learn to drive, and get a job. When I finished my Bachelor’s degree, the department hadn’t yet gotten around to buying a van for me. Coincidentally, that was around the time the economy tanked.
The department said due to budget issues, I’d have to wait a little longer for their help. Then, when I said I was considering online schools because I didn’t drive, they said, “Well, if you’re not going to need to drive to school, where would you drive to?” “Well, to ‘real life’ places,” I said. They weren’t interested in that. If I wasn’t driving to school or work, I seemingly didn’t exist.
I was effectively told I’d either go to a brick and mortar school or, as they saw it, I didn’t need their help. I felt stuck. Long story short, we found a used adapted van, the price was low enough, and I was able to start practicing. I’ll get there soon: if disability has taught me anything, it’s tenacity.