The Shortest Distance

Scott Bellman, DO-IT Staff

Mathematicians say that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That's great in theory, but not always true for humans as they try to get from place to place. Access to everyday transportation can be a challenge for people with disabilities. Although increasing numbers of accessible buses, government-sponsored ride programs, and adapted automobiles are available, this country still has a long way to go to achieve the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the area of accessible transportation.

Some DO-IT Scholars with mobility impairments are learning to drive adapted vehicles. The text that follows includes excerpts from our DO-IT Parent online community where parents share experiences that can benefit others.

"I am a Scholar's mom. For the last year I was under the impression that my daughter, who has spina bifida, had to have an evaluation from the Adaptive Driving program at a university to even be eligible to try and get a Washington State drivers license-SURPRISE! I finally got in touch with a real live person from the University of Washington Adaptive program, and the disabled do not have to be evaluated in the State of Washington. Because my daughter will need hand controls, many companies who sell and/or install them may want the person evaluated, but it is not a requirement. I found a dealer to install hand controls. I found a driving school willing to give drivers training as long as I provide the vehicle equipped with the hand controls."

Another parent writes, "My experience was the same: we were told by my son's doctor that he would have to be accepted by and presumably certified by the UW Adaptive Driving program. A representative of the program told us otherwise. My son went through regular drivers' education at his high school. A letter was sent by the school to the homes of students who were in his class notifying parents that their children might be in the car he was driving, providing them the opportunity to say their children did have permission to ride with him. This did not relate to lack of faith by the instructor or me in my son's ability to drive; it was sent because his disability is visible. The students could also decide they didn't want to ride when my son was driving. It turned out, no one exercised the option of withdrawing their student or choosing not to ride with him.

So he completed the course with flying colors and chose to stay with his learner's permit for as long as possible so he could gain the confidence he knew he needed. Those of you familiar with Cerebral Palsy will know that one of its most unfair characteristics is that it makes most difficult the things the person most wants to do. Knowing this, my son gave himself plenty of time to get through that phase and become comfortable with driving.

When he felt he was ready, he took his written test and passed. When it was time for his driving test, we learned from the staff that "special" drivers are to be tested by specially trained testers. This turned out to be the most wonderful news. The one person qualified to test my son turned out to be the supervisor of the Department of Licensing office in Bellingham. A wonderful man, whose motivation to test special drivers came from the fact his daughter is differently able. And the test he administered? I think every teenager or other new driver should have to take it. My son's friends drove about one-quarter mile, turned around, and came back. But his test took nearly two hours. And that was just the daytime version! All over surface roads, through one-way streets, all sorts of turns, on and off the Interstate 16 times. He drove almost to Canada and back and overcame every obstacle in between. He passed, easily. He was given a provisional license for six months.

Now some of you might ask, was it fair that my son had to jump through all those extra hoops? For him, he and I say, it was a great thing. Because, when he passed those tests, he and I and the State of Washington all KNEW with certainty that he was a capable and safe driver. No one could tell him otherwise. So, make sure you find that particular person at your local Department of Licensing office. It will make all the difference."