I’m coming back to Rose B. Fischer’s Redefining Disability Awareness Challenge to answer the question, “What are the biggest challenges that you face in regard to disability? “
This is the question that I will never quite make my peace with. When I was 16, I got my permit with absolutely no trouble because all I had to do was to take the written test. It wasn’t until I took my place behind the steering wheel that things started to get scary. And boy, did they!
My left foot turns outward, and my mother was always afraid that it would slip off the pedal. I tried to be extra aware and careful that that foot stayed on the pedal. Unfortunately, I wasn’t always able to tell how hard I was pressing the pedal, which meant I either drove too fast or too slow. I always wanted to press the breaks too soon or too late. I couldn’t look at anything off the side of the road, because I would always head in that direction and almost run off the road.
I took Driver’s Education in 10th grade. The instructor was the high school football coach, and we drove a big green station wagon. We usually had 5 or 6 people in the car, which wasn’t the most soothing way to learn. One thing I remember was having to pull the car up to a gas tank at a gas station so the instructor could fill the tank. I thought for sure I’d kill the car or the gas tank. It scared me to death!
My dad and I would have never been able to do the “driving lessons” together, so it fell on my mom to go out with me. I’m sure she almost lost her lunch more than once sitting in the passenger seat. It was so funny. There was a cassette tape player in the car, so I always wanted to listen to “The Collection” by Amy Grant while I was driving. Mom didn’t think any music should be playing, but I was just trying to relax. I needed music to keep myself from being so tense, and I was always the type to fiddle with the radio when I was riding. I thought the tape was a much better way to handle it.
I can’t even describe what trying to parallel park was like. I understood the theory behind how parking was supposed to work, but for some reason I could not get it, at least not consistently.
I tried two or three times to get my license, but failed each time. My college was in a small town, but I could usually get a ride when I needed to go somewhere. When I eventually landed in Savannah, Georgia, I was delighted that my apartment was one block away from one of the major bus routes in the city.Finally I had some sense of freedom! It wasn’t the same as driving a car of my own, but it felt pretty good. I promised myself that I would never live anywhere else that didn’t have appropriate public transportation.
My supervisor Tami tried to work with me as well because she knew that my employment opportunities would be limited if I couldn’t drive. She worked with me some, even driving into a cemetery to let me practice. I’ll never forget it–she said, “You can’t hurt anybody here.” I still laugh at that one. She took me to try for my license once more, and lo and behold, they failed me for being too confident and driving a little too fast.
So it was back to my plan never to live anywhere voluntarily that doesn’t have public transportation that will work for me. I moved to Asheville, NC, off the public bus route, but thinking Mountain Mobility (our paratransit) would work for me. I later found out that you can basically only go to doctors or limited shopping. I can buy vouchers, but the places I’m going need to be fairly close so that it doesn’t cost too much.
I have so often wondered if having hand controls would have made driving more of a possibility for me. I knew one girl who had them, and truthfully, I was jealous. We never considered them for me. I don’t know if it was cost or fear or just not knowing anything much about them.
Transportation is and always will be the greatest challenge in regard to my disability. I don’t even feel as if I can ask somebody to go to dinner because they are always the ones who have to drive. It’s one thing if they ask me, but no one ever thinks of it. I don’t have any kind of social life, and it really makes me sad.