Path to the Road: Getting Myself Road-Ready…

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A photograph of a person in a manual wheelchair getting onto a public transit bus. Under the Where it's AT logo, the text reads "Path to the Road: Getting Myself Road Ready" -

Russell Rawlings, Statewide Community Organizer, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers

I have never thought of myself as a vehicle owner. But, as a 45-year-old male with cerebral palsy who uses a powerchair (or “electric wheelchair” as I probably would’ve said for the majority of my life), I’m being presented with an opportunity to become a wheelchair accessible van owner for the first time.

I had left Texas 21 years ago for the very reason that independent mobility options were entirely nonexistent in the suburban Houston area, where I lived with my parents. Sacramento, California was my destination, all because I knew exactly one person who let me know the public transportation system in Sacramento was (according to my friend) “adequate” for West Coast cities.

To say that I am an avid fan of and advocate for accessible public transportation (Thank you, ADAPT!) is probably an understatement. I can still recall my first trip to San Francisco in 2001 — my mind was completely blown that I was able to travel all the way from Sacramento to San Francisco without leaving my chair, thanks to Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service and the Bay Area’s BART service. I’ve made the trip so many times that it feels like second nature.

So, when I received an offer of family support for getting a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV), my brain’s first reaction was… Why? I’d lived the first half of my life understanding just how difficult life was without a WAV. (I’m going to start calling it just “a van” from here on, because it feels more authentic and less difficult to read.) And now, I had more than 20 years of experience with planning my life around public transportation.

Now that it was a distinct possibility, though, I was confronted with another question. If I had a van, could I drive it? I knew because it was the first question I had, it was worth pursuing. Here at CFILC, we’ve been working with Booster Fuels to enable development of a regulatory framework for mobile fueling — the ability for the disability community (everyone, really!) To receive on-site full-service fuel refills on demand, via an app. I’ve heard stories of folks in our community struggling to get assistance at gas stations, even though it is the law…

But even if the answer was no on driving, I would have access to reliable transportation that wouldn’t leave me locked into a time schedule or stranded somewhere. I might still have to rely on others for driving, but where and when I could go would be significantly less restricted. To be honest, my primary choice of transit mode would still be my power wheelchair and a bus or train, and that wouldn’t change…

Follow along here with me on the Path to the Road blog mini-series for “Where It’s AT?” — I’ll be sharing more about Booster Fuels (the near magical sounding future of on-demand, on-site fuel delivery) in my own path to the open road as I become a first-time WAV (a.k.a. van) owner. In the next installment, I’ll share how I researched both the van and started the process for my driver’s permit.