(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
Beth, 16, passed her driving test on a cold autumn day.
Comfortable behind the wheel of her little blue car, she held a knob on the easy-turn steering wheel with her right hand. Her left hand pushed or pulled a bar to accelerate or brake. Driving was fun, but not getting in and out of the car by herself. She didn’t want to use a sliding board. She scooted to the far right edge of the chair cushion and put one hand on the driver’s seat and the other on the chair cushion. The goal was to lift her trunk high enough with her arms to bridge the gap.
A far-off goal, but Beth still kept trying. Every time.
I stood right behind her and intervened with a boost so she wouldn’t fall. I quickly learned that the belt loops of her jeans ripped easily, so I grabbed the side of her jeans instead to lift her over the gap. When Beth was with others, some still helped by grabbing the belt loops. At first, I sewed up rips and the holes they left. But when they just ripped again, I gave up. At that time, her shirts covered the holes. Just like the bottom of her jeans always hid her socks. Important things for my usually easy-going 16 year old. ;-)
Another driving problem: the empty wheelchair after she was in the drivers seat. Beth liked the idea of taking off the wheels of the chair and lifting the pieces across her body to the passenger seat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t practical between the high back of her chair and her strength.
The mechanized topper on her car had seemed like the solution. However, the wheelchair needed to be folded and positioned properly on the hook. Plus, the topper was temperamental. When Beth pushed the toggle switch on the remote control to raise the wheelchair, it did not always fall in place at the top properly.
Which meant that the car would not start.
She resigned herself to the fact that driving would not be a completely independent activity. Even so, she had no regrets about her decision to drive a car instead of a van with a lift.
Beth always made time for friends. On the November opening day of the second Harry Potter movie, The Chamber of Secrets, she talked me into letting her drive with no one else in the car while she picked up her best friends. I put her wheelchair in the hatchback without taking it apart. The chair was out of her reach, but I made sure that her cell phone was charged and close by. I was on call but not needed until after the movie when she pulled in the driveway by herself.
About five months after our Seattle trip, Beth surprised me by achieving the impossible...
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