(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
On the advice of the social worker at Green Springs, Beth and I met with a Rehabilitation Services counselor. He asked about a career. Fifteen years old, she responded that she might be a rehab doctor like Dr. Miller. Surprised, the counselor chose his words carefully and voiced objections. He doubted her physical abilities, but to be fair, he didn’t know how persistent she could be in finding ways to use her hands for fine motor tasks.
Beth didn’t like being told she couldn’t do something.
With the exception of standing and walking and jumping, she regarded most physical obstacles as surmountable in some way. She asked for my opinion. I shared my certainty that she could be a great doctor—after proving herself every step of the way in the face of resistance from those who would see the wheelchair first.
A computer expert set Beth’s mouse to respond to the soft touch of her thumb and added DragonSpeak software. The early version required time to teach the program to recognize your individual voice. Getting comfortable with typing, she gave up on DragonSpeak.
Learning how to drive peaked her interest much more.
The rehab counselor guided us through the steps after Beth passed the written test for her learner’s permit. A specialized instructor from Toledo recommended specific car modifications. Driving would not be a problem. The biggest issues: getting in and out the car independently, plus storing the wheelchair.
A van with a lift would easily solve those issues, but instead, Beth bought a little blue Ford Focus hatchback with insurance money from the accident. Toledo mechanics added all of the modifications.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, Beth used her right hand to grip a large knob attached to an easy-to-turn steering wheel. Her other hand pushed or pulled a bar on the left side of the steering wheel to apply the brakes or to go faster. The gas and brake pedals on the floor also worked (after testing that her spasms would not be likely to hit the pedals), so I could drive it the usual way. To top it off, a big motorized box on the roof lifted and stored a folding wheelchair, the control box in the driver’s reach.
“My newest challenges are learning how to drive a car with adapted hand controls,” she said, “and how to transfer in and out of the driver’s seat independently.”
To go anywhere in the car by herself, Beth had to open the door to the driver’s seat, remove the foot rests, position the wheelchair, lock it, place the sliding board to bridge the gap to the car, slowly shift over, put away the sliding board, grab the remote control, release the hook from the top, take off the chair cushion, fold the wheelchair, catch the folded seat with the hook, and push the toggle to lift and store the chair. With anything less than perfection, the car would not start and Beth could not fix it. So...we rarely used the topper. I flattened one of the back seats so I could set the chair into the hatchback without folding it or taking the wheels off: one small simplification in days that felt complicated.
We didn't know that Beth's little blue car would carry us far and wide, to adventures that were completely unexpected.
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