The days of Janet VanName driving her small electric mobile chair to her job at Walmart is over, thanks to several organizations that provided a specially equipped van.
VanName was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991, and over time the disease has progressed until she can no longer walk or move her legs much at all. In order to get to work as a lead special events coordinator at Walmart, VanName would drive her electric chair along the road, within feet of passing vehicles and in all kinds of weather. She did not have a vehicle that was equipped to carry the chair and so she petitioned several area groups for help.
This month her dream came true with the help of several organizations. Among them was Superior Van and Mobility in Lexington and the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. The state and federally funded programs help people with disabilities who want to continue to work.
“When I was diagnosed, I knew I wanted to keep working as long as I could, my faith has brought me this far, but this van is getting me to work now,” said VanName.
The vehicle is 2018 Dodge Caravan, which has been completely modified to allow VanName to drive the car with her hands and to load and unload the electric chair into the vehicle itself. The van floor is lower and the driver’s seat spins around completely into the cargo area to allow her easy access to her chair. The modifications cost over $36,000.
Julie Pattie, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, works with disabled citizens to remove barriers that keep them from the workplace. She notes that even citizens who are receiving a disability income are eligible to work part time, thereby supplementing their total income.
“Janet is a good fit for our service because even though she has MS she still wants to work; she is motivated to do whatever she has to do so she can continue to work,” said Pattie.
But the service is not free and does require VanName to pay for a portion of the vehicle itself. She saved $4,000 to put toward a deposit on the vehicle and she is responsible for a monthly car payment, as well.
The opportunity to own the vehicle came as a surprise to VanName.
“I just asked for help with a lift in the beginning, I’m not a materialist person,” she said. “Jesus said to be humble and that’s how I live my life but I do love having this transportation.”
Catherine Greene, an occupational therapist from the University of Kentucky was brought in to help VanName learn to drive with the new controls, all operated from the below the steering wheel.
“It was a little difficult at first and I’m still learning how to be comfortable driving it,” said VanName.
Every day she said she is grateful for the van and its modifications.
“I just want to say ‘Thank you’ to everyone who helped me get this van and has allowed me to keep working,” said VanName. “I hope that if they ever need any help from me, they’ll let me know.”
Jackie Anders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.