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Adaptive cars help those with disabilities drive more easily

TRIPIL assistive technology specialist John Flaherty stands by

TRIPIL assistive technology specialist John Flaherty stands by as independent living supervisor Brenda Dare demonstrates how she uses her MV-1 that came with a built in ramp to make it accessible. The photo was taken on Friday, July 8, 2016 in Washington, Pa. during an Adaptive Vehicle Car Show hosted by TRIPIL.

WASHINGTON, Pa. - Commuting to work every day seems like a simple enough task, and it is for most people. For people with disabilities, however, that is not necessarily the case.

The good news is there are adaptive vehicles and a range of vehicle modifications available for those with disabilities to help ensure they can live a life without commuting limitations. Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living has a mission to affirm liberty and justice for people with disabilities and Friday, as part of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival, TRIPIL held an adaptive car show to display and spread the word about options that can enable drivers with disabilities to get behind the wheel.

"We want anybody who wants to be a contributing participatory member of the community to be able to get around," said John Flaherty, assistive technology specialist for TRIPIL. "If they can drive, we want them to be able to drive. We don't want technology to be the limiting factor."

According to Flaherty, adaptive vehicle modifications were around a long time and can be expensive because of the captive market, however these modifications came a long way both in price and versatility.

The adaptive car show also highlighted the importance of accessibility of local paratransit systems and the history of accessible transportation in Washington, which strengthened considerably because of disability activists.

The show featured privately owned vehicles from TRIPIL employees with disabilities. The most unique vehicle of the show was the MV1, owned by Flaherty and his fiancée Brenda Dare, TRIPIL Independent Living Supervisor. The MV1 is the only factory-made vehicle that is wheelchair accessible. Every other adaptive vehicle needs third-party market modifications, but the MV1 comes ready to go. It is made by American General.

Dare has cerebral palsy and arthritis, and she has used a wheelchair since she was 3 years old. By the age of 20, she became a powerchair user. She owned the MV1 since April 2015, and it is also the only vehicle without a front passenger seat. That is where her power chair goes.

"If it wasn't for this van, I wouldn't be able to work," Dare said. "I'd be stuck at home climbing the walls and talking to the dogs all day, so for me it is life changing."

Dare herself does not drive because she does not have the depth perception to do so, she said. However, Dare said there are systems available such as a 6-way power seat that rotate to face the opening of the door to make transferring easier, or a system allows her to connect to the drivetrain of the vehicle and essentially replace the wheel with the joystick of her power chair.

Hand controls were another feature of the car show. Matt Taylor, TRIPIL Membership Director, had a spinal cord injury five years ago, the result of a diving accident. He has used a wheelchair ever since.

The hand controls in his vehicle allow him to drive without using his feet, and there are a number of other features that allow him to drive safely and comfortably.

Hand controls for vehicles can be very different depending on the dexterity of the driver, or length of their arms. Each modification must cater to the needs of the driver which can vary.

TRIPIL does not modify vehicles themselves, however, if necessary, they can provide contact information of companies who can add the proper modifications, dealerships that sell the MV1 and driving schools that can teach drivers with disabilities how to operate their vehicle modifications.

"I don't think enough people realize what options are available to them and we really hope events like this can grow and more people can realize whatever your limitations are there's a way around them," Dare said.

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