Young Leaders: Licence to Drive

James Dunn by James Dunn
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Like a lot of young people, as soon as I turned 17 I got my provisional licence and started learning to drive. For a wheelchair user though this can be a very long process.

First I contacted Motability to arrange an assessment. The assessor would ultimately be the one to make the decision of whether or not I was capable of driving. As the assessment day arrived I don’t know who was more nervous, me or my family. They were afraid the assessor would say that I was not fit to drive and my dreams would be shattered.

In the back of my mind though I knew that my motivation would be enough to get me through it. I wasn't quite sure how I'd face the hurdles of physically been able to control a car but I knew that I would make it work in some way or another.

Wheelchair user drivingAfter a few simple tests to assess my movement, strength and awareness he told me that I'd definitely be driving within a year. That was the best day of my life. Once they ordered my accessible vehicle it took a year to get it fully fitted and adapted, but as soon as I got it I started my driving lessons and finally passed my test just after my 18th birthday.

The whole process was quite challenging, physically, mentally and emotionally. On top of the lessons I had to travel to Yorkshire from Merseyside at least once a month when the car was being adapted to make sure it fitted and worked with my wheelchair. It also tested my motivation too. I admit that I can be a bit lazy sometimes and don’t always enjoy doing things that involve “hard work”. Despite this though I stayed motivated by focusing on the end goal.

It wasn't a matter of ‘wanting’ freedom. It was more a matter of me needing it. Before driving I had been dependent on everyone around me. Every time I wanted to go out, one of my parents would have to take me. Nothing could ever be spontaneous, it always had to be planned.

My friends were always off doing stuff and partaking in mini adventures around the city but it wasn’t always easy for me to be involved. Some friends didn’t want the responsibility of hanging around with a person that has different needs to themselves. At the time I got very depressed about this and lost many of my so called “close friends” because of it.

Now that I can drive the impact on my life has been huge. Not only has it given me independence but it's also given me a life; a life I never had up until now. Before driving I was entirely dependent on my family. If it got to the weekend and they weren't feeling up to doing anything that meant I couldn't do anything. Now if I wake up and if feel like going somewhere I can. A few times a week I'm out with my friend Marc, we do lunch, we shop, we go to the movies and everything else in between. There are no limits.

It’s been a massive change for my mum too. When I was having my assessment I think a tiny part of her expected them to say no to me driving. Not because she thought I wasn’t capable, but more because she was worried how I’d cope with the independence. Up until that time I had been with my mum most days and depended on her for everything. It would be a lie if I said that the thought of me going off on my own behind the wheel of a car didn't scare her a little.

But the reality is that it has been wonderful for my mum too and she now gets a break from being stuck with me 24 hours a day. Breaks are something she never knew existed up until I gained my freedom through driving.

Seeing me drive has also made an impact on other people’s lives too. I do powerchair football, and I remember the look on my friend his mum’s faces when I first pulled up to training driving my own car. It was a mixture of shock and amazement and they asked me so many questions. Now he’s also got his provisional licence and is learning to drive his own adapted vehicle using his wheelchair like me. It can be quite annoying and patronising when people keep telling you that you’re an inspiration just because you’re disabled. But when you see first-hand yourself that you've genuinely inspired somebody, it's a great feeling.

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