A Life Dedicated to Driving Possibility for People with Disabilities

“It wasn't a minivan. It wasn't a soccer mom vehicle. It's something different and I was looking for a change from the typical minivans.”

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A Certified Mobility Consultant at Superior Van and Mobility, Paul Erway not only helps people with disabilities find their mobility independence, but he has a special connection to those living with mobility challenges. Having a disability himself, Erway understands the importance of finding accessible transportation. Over the years, he’s not only helped hundreds of people find accessible vehicles, but he also drives one—a BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse with an infloor power ramp and a 6-way transfer seat.  

Life Before a Spinal Cord Injury 

An avid horseman, Erway grew up on a Pennsylvania farm. He started riding horses at age four, showing them at age 11, and training them at 16. Eventually he worked under a professional horse trainer, who hoped to someday see Erway in national show circuits. On graduation weekend, he went out to celebrate with fellow classmates. He described the drive back home saying, “I fell asleep in the back seat because I was drinking. My friend doesn't drink so I let him drive.” 

Despite taking precautions to get home safely, Erway says he and his best friend were involved in a “freak accident” caused by road construction.  

Injured in 1980–before seatbelts were required in vehicles–Erway was faced with the reality of living life as a paraplegic after the accident. 

Living with a Disability Before the Passage of the ADA 

Erway lived with his injury for 10 years before the ADA was passed. He described the time saying, “Back then, there were no curb cuts. [A wheelchair user] had to jump curbs to get anywhere.” 

He continued, “In the hospital after my injury, they wouldn't teach me how to pop a wheelie because they were afraid I'd flip and hit my head. A gentleman who was a paraplegic came in at nighttime to teach me how to pop wheelies.” 

The man had a job, a wife, and kids, and he inspired Erway to get moving in any way he could, which eventually led him to get behind the wheel. 

 “He showed me there was life after a spinal cord injury”, he said.  


Learning to Drive as a Paraplegic 

Erway drove an adapted vehicle for the first time shortly after his injury. He described the experience saying, “The hospital had a vehicle with hand controls. The instructor picked me up and pulled me into the vehicle. We pushed my wheelchair to the side and left it in the parking lot.” 

After 20 minutes, the two returned to the parking lot, and the instructor told Erway he passed the driving test. 

Soon he started driving his first accessible vehicle—a cargo van fitted with hand controls made by his brother. He would open the vehicle’s sliding door, pull his wheelchair in, then slide across the vehicle floor pulling himself up into the driver’s seat. While a lift was eventually added to the vehicle, it wasn’t until four years after his injury that Erway was introduced to BraunAbility. 

He said, “In 1984, I got to go to my first [mobility industry] conference. I also got a chance to meet Ralph Braun. I got to know his company and see what he was doing. That was definitely a life changer.” 

Erway drove BraunAbility vans for many years. While he was happy to have the freedom to get from point A to point B, he was eager to drive a different type of vehicle. When he discovered the BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse—a wheelchair accessible SUV—he was ready to get behind the wheel. 

In 1984, I got to go to my first [mobility industry] conference. I also got a chance to meet Ralph Braun. I got to know his company and see what he was doing. That was definitely a life changer.

- Paul Erway

The BraunAbility Chevrolet Traverse 

Erway was excited to drive the accessible Chevy Traverse because he said, “It wasn't a minivan. It wasn't a soccer mom vehicle. It's something different and I was looking for a change from the typical minivans.” 

He enjoys many features of the accessible SUV including the powered wheelchair ramp, the 360° cameras, and the mirror sensors which warn him of potential hazards, but his favorite feature is the heated steering wheel. 

He said, “When I push my manual wheelchair, and I have steel push rims, my hands get so cold in the winter. I can put my hands on the heated steering wheel to get them warmed up.” 

He continued, “All the technology in the vehicle makes it much nicer and so much easier for [people with disabilities].”  

When he’s not working, Paul spends time in his local community, taking care of day-to-day tasks like going to the grocery store or visiting a local restaurant. On his outings, he finds people with and without disabilities are intrigued by the technology of the vehicle - especially the sliding door- stating many people don’t expect to see an SUV with a sliding door and a wheelchair ramp. 

“To see the powered door start to slide open…You've never seen it open that way before. As I drive to different places, I’ve had people stop and take pictures or video of it opening. It really catches some people's eyes,” he said. 

Driving Possibilities for People with Disabilities

Erway enjoys showing off his vehicle to people. In fact, as part of his work, he often visits local rehabilitation hospitals, educating physical and occupational therapists about driving possibilities for people with disabilities, as well as support groups. 

He said, “I do presentations where I can take my vehicle and I can show it to all the therapists and let them know about accessible vehicles. To see the therapists faces when they come out and see this nice vehicle and they watch the door open, and the ramp come out…it’s a joy.” 

Erway has even sold his friends on the vehicle too, describing his first trip after getting the SUV to visit a friend who is a paraplegic. 

“The first place I went to was to go show a friend of mine. He was looking at going away from vehicle transfers—pulling his wheelchair in—but he was waiting for something like an SUV.”  

Erway continued, “I drove to his workplace and got him to come out to try it out. Now he's in the process of buying his own.” 

Erway’s advice for those looking into accessible vehicles is to visit a local BraunAbility dealer to experience the vehicle for yourself. Whether you’ll be in the driver’s seat or the passenger seat, Erway says, “Life is so much better when you’re driving one of these vehicles. You’ll feel better about yourself. It’s a good-looking vehicle and you’ll look good in it.” 

To learn more about the Chevy Traverse or other BraunAbility mobility products, visit your local dealer today.

Paul is supported by BraunAbility and his local mobility dealer, Superior Van & Mobility in Louisville, Kentucky. When you purchase a mobility product from BraunAbility, you join a powerful community.  

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