All posts by Tiffiny Carlson

Tiffiny Carlson is a writer and quadriplegic from Minneapolis. She has a C6 spinal cord injury from a diving accident when she was 14 years old. Writing and breaking stereotypes is her passion. She’s been the SCI Life columnist for New Mobility magazine since 2003 and is the founder of the longtime disability site, BeautyAbility.com. Her work has also been featured in Penthouse, Playgirl and Nerve.com. And when she’s not writing, Tiffiny loves to cook and practice adaptive yoga.

My minivan, my unlimited life

Some people eat ice cream or watch Superbad to get happy, I on the other hand have found a much more visceral dorm of happiness – I drive my minivan.

When I finally got my driver’s license at age 25 (a very daunting task for a C5-6  quadriplegic mind you; tons of extra gadgets to get the hang of), my eyes were opened to the therapeutic benefits of getting where you want to, WHEN you want to. No limitations. The same as everybody else (something you rarely get when you use a wheelchair). Every time I get behind the wheel my disability visage transforms into just another car on the road. I love it.

And although yes, it is a modicum of independence, the adapted minivan (the minivan combined with the lowered floor and ramp) is no small purchase. With a base price (new) of $35,000 (and that’s on the low end ) lots of folks just don’t have this kind of money. Buying a used beater, the birthright for most first drivers, isn’t an option for us.

This is especially not cool since so often people with disabilities can have a harder time getting employed. Workplace discrimination is a sad but true reality. So…we struggle make enough money AND our vehicles cost more. Great. I had a hard time figuring out funds myself. Thanks to help from my family, I ended up purchasing a used 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan (1 year old) from a rental car company for $12,000. We figured that was a wise move.

And I was fortunate to have my health insurance cover the installation of the Braun lowered floor/ramp; a huge expense I was worried about (it costs much more than the van itself). I was hugely lucky. But, not everyone is this lucky. I know hundreds people with disabilities both in person and online who desperately need a van. They want to get one, but don’t have the funding. Many of these folks search and search until they find a used one they can afford (but not often though).

Others throw a benefit for themselves to raise the money. This can sometimes work, other times not so much. And others just give up. I really hope adapted vehicles came down in price one day. At least we have newly adapted vehicles like the MV-1, the first adapted vehicle to be made on an assembly-line from VPG, which has greatly lowered the base price.

And I drive from my wheelchair. Yeah, I stay in it. And boy is it sweet. This by far is my most favorite adaptation in my van, and it’s made possible by my EZ Lock automatic chair tie-down system; a slick contraption that keeps my wheelchair in place as I drive. I just drive my chair over it and hear for the “click” (to know when I’m locked in). Such a great independence-enabled thing. Automatic tie-downs truly are the only way to go.

As I do get locked in and turn on my van, feeling it purr…a flurry of endorphins 9 times out of 10 inundates me. This feeling cannot be topped by anything else in my life. Shopping, traveling, my boyfriend even, nothing.

And when I bring my minivan up to speed on the freeway, nothing can beat that stronger and stronger feeling. My unresponsive body is no longer a factor at that moment. Not behind the wheel. The car responds to me and that is all I need. And OMG oh what a feeling.

Thank you, my sweet Silver Bullet, my Dodge Grand Caravan, for bringing me the feeling of limitless joy.

What do you drive? And what kind of adaptations do you use?

Links

– Dodge Grand Caravan

– Braun Entervan

– EZ Lock tie-down system

– The MV-1 from the Vehicle Production Group

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