Self-driving vans can foster independence and mobility among persons with disabilities. I will show how far we come to increase independence during my lifetime and what will happen in the near future.

When I was in high school I used a motorized chair. It could not be transported in my father’s car. If it could’ve been transported I would’ve been better able to socialize and introduce myself to people. Some interesting problems occurred because of the inability to transport my chair. I graduated from high school in June 1983. My motorized wheelchair had to be left at school until I came back for graduation. Once at school my father had to transfer me to the motorized chair using a standard cradle bodily left. He did this because it was my desire to go up and get my diploma by myself. It is clear now that my parents went far above and beyond the call of duty to ensure my independence and happiness.

A Power Wheelchair Without a Van

I received my motorized chair in September of 1979. I can honestly tell you that I felt like the king of the world. Finally, I moved on my own. It opened up a whole new world. Prior to this time I was confined to a manual wheelchair and needed by family and friends. It can be hard to meet new people when you must always have a caregiver at your side. Having a motorized chair enabled me to meet people. They would always ask me questions as to how fast the chair could go and how far I could drive. When I first got the chair, I was unable to control it and ran over seven people during my first two days of high school. Suffice it to say that people were happier with me when I learned to control the chair.

My father purchased a full-sized van with the lift in 1980. It had a rear lift door. Having a rear lift door was advantageous because we only needed one parking spot rather than the 2 required by a side entry van. The full-sized van has another advantage I was able to transport large groups of friends to a ballgame or concert. The full-sized van enhanced my ability to socialize with friends. At that time, it was a blessing, but I now think self-driving vans will help people with disabilities a lot.

Drawbacks to Having The Full-sized Van

Having a full-sized van can be difficult to drive and park. For this reason, my mom decided to purchase a minivan with the Braun conversion. My mom purchased a 2012 Toyota Sienna. The vehicle has many great features such as the fact the door opens and the lift drops with the touch of a button. The passenger seat is removed from my van. It is equipped with an easy lock system to secure my chair. There is a peg on the bottom of my motorized chair which allows me to drive into the lock and be safe during travel.

The easy lock system is an improvement over the ratchets and straps that were used to secure the chair in my full-sized van. Often times my drivers would not loosen the straps properly once we stopped. On the return trip, they were getting loosely and were useless for actually securing the chair. I purchased a new motorized chair in 2017. I had to buy a new easy lock for the chair. The easy lock system is a bit expensive it can cost as much as $1300 to put a new peg on a motorized chair.  I was blessed by the fact that the New Jersey Department of vocational rehabilitation paid for the installation of the new peg.

accessilble van self-driving vans

Converted Vehicles Are Expensive

A minivan with the Braun conversion can cost as much as $45,000 and it is not a self-driving van. I was blessed with the fact that my uncle purchased the minivan for me. I would not have been able to afford it without his generosity. The New Jersey Department of vocational rehabilitation provides funds to convert vans on behalf of persons with disabilities, who are seeking employment. The conversion itself cost about $18,500. The New Jersey Department of vocational rehabilitation will provide funds for conversions every 5 years. I strongly urge the readers of this post to check with their state’s department of vocational rehabilitation to obtain funds for conversions. If you cannot afford to purchase an adaptive vehicle they can be rented for $99 a day. You would be able to use an adaptive vehicle to go on a day trip with family and friends.

How Self-driving Vans Work

Self-driving vans use sensors to detect the cars around them. They are capable of staying in their lanes and following curves in the road. They can even break by themselves when they detect a vehicle in front of them. One problem is that drivers must be connected to the steering or brake systems in order for the technology to work. Human interaction still needed.

Autonomous Driving Still Needs to be Improved

There have been accidents involving autonomous driving technology. On one occasion a Tesla vehicle hit a fire truck moving at 5 miles an hour. On another occasion, a General Motors vehicle struck a motorcycle when it was changing lanes. I long for the day when I will be able to punch in the destination to my computer and have my van drive me there. Autonomous are self-driving technology has the potential to enhance the independence of persons with disabilities.

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