Life Without My Entervan? No thanks!

AbilityVoice: a blog about mobility topics

We've asked one of our BraunAbility customers, Mike Shirk, to share his personal accounts of life with his wheelchair van. Here's a terrific example of how essential an accessible vehicle is to personal independence!

I had often wondered how I might get along without my wheelchair van (not that I wanted to, but my illness has a nasty habit of getting worse over time). One rainy morning in San Diego, a distracted driver gave me the chance to find out. I was stopped at a red light when I heard the sound of sliding tires behind me followed quickly by a sharp thump as the other car struck my rear bumper. It is testimony to the strength of the BraunAbility Entervan that my van only suffered a small dent in the rear bumper cover, while the other vehicle had major front-end damage. It also gave my wheelchair lockdown a workout - and it came through just fine.

Even though my damage was minimal it still required leaving the van at the collision shop for a week. So this was my chance to experience life without my wheelchair accessible vehicle.

We are fortunate to live in a community where there are three grocery stores, a drugstore plus several restaurants within wheelchair riding distance. We also have a bus stop about four blocks away for medical appointments, trips to the zoo, museums, galleries, etc., so I thought "how bad can it be?" I was about to find out.

My first challenge was to return home from the collision shop, which was about four miles away. I had been researching bus schedules and learned that only a few of the bus stops could handle a wheelchair due to the lack of space for loading. I called the San Diego transit district, and they told me to look for bus stops that had blue and white stripes on the pole that held the bus stop sign. So I went to one of those signs after leaving my van at the shop, and waited for the bus. When it arrived, the driver told me that the blue and white stripes were an error and he could not pick me up. I drove my wheelchair half a mile to a stop that appeared to have the required amount of room. Then came the next surprise: the only way to get on the bus was to drive onto a flimsy-looking lift and be raised five feet into the air with only a canvas strap behind me. I then had to drive into the bus and park and wait for the driver to install restraining straps to each of my wheelchair's four tiedown spots.

As you can see by the picture accompanying this article, the buses that operated in my part of San Diego are not the typical long vehicle you would find in most cities. They have a short wheelbase and a long extension to the rear. It is at the very back of that extension that you must ride if you are in a wheelchair. The only way to describe the ride back to my home would be to say that it was more terrifying and bumpy than the fastest, oldest, roller coaster I have ever ridden. I was thrown high into the air and my feet were flailing from side to side. The driver looked into his rearview mirror and grinned to see me having such a difficult time.

The next day, I was due to take my wheelchair to Ability Center-the same company that sold me my van. The mobility experts at the dealership are also skilled at fitting wheelchairs, and they needed to do some work on my power chair. I have made the drive to their place on numerous occasions, and it usually takes me about 25 minutes. I had studied the bus routes carefully and knew that I would need to travel on three different buses to get there. Once again I boarded one of those local buses and bounced my way to the transit center where I would take a larger bus. According to the schedule I would be arriving at the transit center about five minutes before the connecting bus departed. However, since it took the driver five minutes to strap me in and another five minutes to get me disconnected and off the lift, I arrived at the next bus stop just in time to see it depart. So I had to wait an hour for the next bus to arrive. When it did arrive, it was much more convenient to board, and I was able to ride near the front of the bus. Even so, it took another hour to arrive at my next transfer point and once again I got there just after the connecting bus departed. It was cold and drizzling, but even so I decided to travel the remaining three miles by wheelchair rather than wait another hour. Altogether it took me three hours for a trip that would've taken me 25 minutes in my wheelchair van.

On the return trip, I learned more disturbing news: each bus only has room for one or possibly two wheelchairs, and if there is already a wheelchair on the bus, you must wait another hour to see if there will be room on the next bus. Worse still, I witnessed firsthand a bus driver refusing to allow a wheelchair on his bus simply because he didn't want to take the time to make room for the wheelchair and strap it down.

When I finally got back home, all I could think about was how much I wanted my Entervan back in my driveway. Three days later I had it back, but then I got a letter from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Now I had a new hurdle to worry about.

(To be continued...)

To learn more about Mike and to read his disability blog,click here!