Cancer Survivor Finds Freedom in a Toyota Sienna Wheelchair Van

“Now, I drive like I used to drive. It's normal for me to get in and drive with my hands. [Driving an adapted vehicle is] life changing.”

Read More

In the face of a battle against Stage 4 cancer, Barbara Hale's strength and resilience shine brightly. Enduring months of radiation and chemotherapy, she emerged from the first round of treatments to find herself confronted with cancer again. A year later, the cancer had come back, bringing with it neuropathy, lymphedema, and muscle loss. Eventually, Barbara began to lose mobility, transitioning from a single cane to two, then a walker, and ultimately to a power wheelchair.  

On her road to recovery, Barbara found driving independence thanks to a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) and a BraunAbility Toyota Sienna Hybrid van, and today, she drives her van to and from work, the local library, and restaurants she enjoys visiting with her husband. 

Life Before a Wheelchair Van: Navigating Mobility and Transportation Struggles 

Hale spent a year learning to drive and getting her Toyota Sienna Hybrid modified to be wheelchair accessible. At the time, she lived 76 miles out of Dallas, Texas, where she worked. She said, “I was commuting every day. When I lost the ability to drive completely, how did you get to work? It was a long commute, so my husband would take me to Dallas and come home.”  

Soon, she was forced to live away from her husband and closer to work. Not having an accessible vehicle, she lived with a friend, and relied on rideshare services to get where she needed to go. 

“I used Uber a lot [while] I lived with her because if I was at work and had a doctor appointment, Uber is still semi- independent.” But that independence only lasted while she could walk. Hale said. “Once I got to the point where I couldn't walk at all, I couldn't use an Uber either because they couldn't take my wheelchair unless I took my manual wheelchair. They couldn't take my electric wheelchair, which is what I wanted.” 

An independent person, Hale was grateful for her friend’s hospitality but wanted to find more independence. 

“I had to get an apartment across the street from work because I couldn't drive. So, I just took my wheelchair and went from my apartment to the office in the wheelchair because for a year, I was without a vehicle,” she said. Hale knew she not only wanted to drive her own vehicle but move back in with her husband. Eventually she worked with her local BraunAbility dealer and a driver rehabilitation specialist to get behind the wheel. 

The Road to Driving Independence for People with Disabilities 

Hale’s first BraunAbility vehicle was identical to the one she drives today: a blue Toyota Sienna Hybrid van with a lowered floor, powered ramp, and hand controls to fit her needs. Hale said, “I wanted to be able to drive. My main concern was to be able to get back in a vehicle and be able to drive again [after losing my mobility].” She visited her local BraunAbility dealer in Texas and looked at three vans. Hale said she’s “not a car person”, so she simply chose the Sienna because she liked the vehicle’s interior and the exterior blue color. 

Hale found confidence in her driving abilities when a certified driver rehabilitation specialist helped her learn to drive using hand controls. She recalled the first time she drove her accessible van, saying, “My driving teacher made me get on the freeway” before she would allow Hale to pass drivers training and be considered ready for her driver’s test. Hale said, “[I was] so scared, and I probably drove slowly, but I made it home. After that I got a lot more confidence.” 

Hale credits her driver rehabilitation specialist with helping her gain the confidence to drive. She said, “Now, I drive like I used to drive. It's normal for me to get in and drive with my hands. [Driving an adapted vehicle is] life changing.” 

I had to get an apartment across the street from work because I couldn't drive. So, I just took my wheelchair and went from my apartment to the office in the wheelchair because for a year I was without a vehicle.

- Barbara Hale

Hale’s Second BraunAbility Toyota Sienna Hybrid 

After being involved in what Barbara refers to as a “freak accident” which totaled her first van, she called her local BraunAbility dealer. 

“I called and I said, ‘I haven't talked to my insurance company yet, but I'm gonna need a new vehicle, so, start looking’”, Hale said. She continued, “[They] found one. The exact same make, same model, same color with the floor already lowered, and so it helped us get into the van a lot quicker because all we needed to do was add in the hand controls.” Hale’s new vehicle was delivered directly to her less than a month after her accident. 

Hale said, “BraunAbility changed my life completely to get me back to normalcy. [I can] do what other people do.” They soon plan to drive their van to Florida, where they’ll spend their days in the Sunshine State. Hale encourages anyone looking into purchasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle to consider a BraunAbility Toyota Sienna Hybrid. She said, “It's an easy vehicle [to drive]. It can be modified in different ways. It accommodates most people. It runs just like a regular vehicle. It changed my life completely.” 

Barbara is supported by BraunAbility and her dealer, United Access in Rowlett, Texas. When you purchase a BraunAbility product, you join a powerful community. 

Read Other Customer Stories

I named it Hope because this van literally gave me hope...hope to get out, hope to live, hope to have freedom again, hope to explore and see and do things I otherwise would not do or see.

Tracie Ridgeway, from Indiana Read More

Without a doubt, I would highly recommend any BraunAbility vehicle, especially the one we got; I wouldn't hesitate. I wouldn't look elsewhere. I wouldn't even compare. I would just go in and start the process.

Adam Reininger, from California Read More

Don’t live life through a window. Look into these vehicles. It will completely and utterly change your life.

Henry Eichner, from Florida Read More