The Life-Changing Impact of a BraunAbility SUV

“My favorite ride [is going to] my best friend’s house. I’ve only been to her house once, and it was many, many years ago. I remember when I got my car, the next day I went over and called her. I said ‘Serena, I’m outside!'”

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Bernadette “Berns” Scarduzio is the proud owner of a BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse, a vehicle which has had a significant impact on her life- not just providing her with transportation but allowing her to find freedom and independence.  

Living with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease 

Scarduzio and her brother, John, live with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT) - a degenerative neurological disorder, which they inherited from their late father, John Sr. While Scarduzio inherited a severe form of the disorder, she says she inherited her father’s strength and courage too. 

CMT causes nerve damage throughout the body. Scarduzio described her diagnosis saying, “CMT is progressive, so every couple years I’m noticing I’m not able to lift up my arms as much or I’m fatiguing more.” 

Scarduzio began using a scooter in March of 2009, which eventually led her to adapt her home. At 22, she transitioned to using leg braces. For a short time, she was able to drive with braces, but as her disability progressed, she feared she’d lose the ability to drive.

Life Before a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle

Before driving an accessible vehicle, Scarduzio drove a Jeep Compass which she said she enjoyed, but eventually she stopped driving the vehicle due to the progression of her disability. Her condition caused her to be unable to feel the brake and gas pedals, and she had a hard time gripping the steering wheel. Using a power scooter at the time, she relied on others to help her get around. 

She described not having an accessible vehicle saying,  

“It was hard on me because I had to ask my family and friends. [They] would have to put the scooter in their trunk, and I would have to watch them struggle because it’s not easy, especially for my mother, or somebody who is smaller.” 

Unable to use a wheelchair due to weakness in her hands, Scarduzio described watching others lift her scooter, which was around 30 pounds, in and out of their vehicles. 

“It’s not fun watching other people struggle to take you out for an hour or two. I always felt like a burden”, she said. Because getting out of the house was challenging, Scarduzio often felt it was easier to stay home, which in turn made her feel “...isolated, depressed, and lonely”. She soon realized she needed an accessible vehicle, or, as she said, “The only way I could go anywhere is if I had an accessible car.” 

It’s not fun watching other people struggle to take you out for an hour or two. I always felt like a burden.

- Bernadette Scarduzio

The BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse 

Scarduzio has been a longtime BraunAbility customer, relying on her converted vehicles to get from place to place. While she enjoyed the vehicles she drove for many years, when she came across the wheelchair accessible SUV, she was immediately ready to transition from an accessible van.

Driving with a progressive disability for many years, Scarduzio had to have new accessible features added to her vehicle to accommodate her changing needs.  

Today, her vehicle is fitted with a powered infloor ramp, a transfer seat, and a Q’Straint securement system. She uses the securement system to lock her power scooter into place, then transfers to her driver’s seat, a BraunAbility B&D transfer seat, which rotates and goes backward and forward to help her get from her wheelchair into the appropriate position to drive. Her vehicle also has hand controls and a control panel which allows her to operate vehicle features like the windshield wipers and horn.  

Even with multiple accessible vehicle modifications, she said, “I can still fit people in the back seat and somebody in the passenger side and off I go. It’s great!” 

Scarduzio is not only able to get in and out of her vehicle with ease but drive the vehicle too. She described the first time she drove the vehicle saying,

“It was one of the best feelings [getting the SUV]. I felt like I was 16 again, and I was free.”

Memorable Trips in a Wheelchair Accessible SUV 

Day-to-day, Scarduzio uses her vehicle to go to doctors’ appointments, visit the beach, and spend time with friends and family. Her favorite memory made possible by her vehicle, was visiting her friend, Serena. 

“My favorite ride [is going to] my best friend’s house. I’ve only been to her house once, and it was many, many years ago. I remember when I got my car, the next day I went over and called her. I said ‘Serena, I’m outside!’”

Scarduzio emphasized having an accessible vehicle has had a positive impact on relationships with her family and friends, 

“One of my favorite things to do was go to my best friend's house again, go visit my mom, [and] take my dog for a ride”, she said.

Scarduzio is excited to take her vehicle further. She currently works for the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation as a Team CMT Coordinator, and she recently became an ambassador for Becoming RentABLE- a site for those looking for short term rental properties that are accessible.  

She said, “I want to you use my car and go travel to these properties and show people [how] I'm using my car to enjoy a vacation with my family. I just feel like [my vehicle] gave me the opportunity to continue my mission [and] continue my work.” 

Scarduzio wants those considering purchasing an accessible vehicle to know,  

“[Living with a disability] is like constant change and constant grieving. I have to lose something, but in the end, I feel like with the help of BraunAbility coming up with these amazing technologies, I'm able to thrive and live the best life I possibly can.” She also wants others to be aware of resources for people with disabilities who are looking into accessible vehicles, like grants and funding options, and vocational rehabilitation.  

If you’re looking into purchasing a wheelchair accessible Chevy Traverse, or other BraunAbility mobility products, you can contact your local BraunAbility Dealer today.

Scarduzio is supported by BraunAbility and her local mobility dealer, Team Toyota in Glen Mills, PA. When you purchase a mobility product from BraunAbility, you join a powerful community. 

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