Not just wheels: Getting this van a ‘life changer’

Nick Schultz and his first car.

Nick Schultz and his first car.

Ahh your first car. Remember yours?

Mine was a Chevy Vega. Hey, it was no muscle car, but it allowed me the luxury to drive myself to school instead of getting a ride with a friend or — heaven forbid — walk. And it taught me a lot about do it yourself body work.

Nick Schultz, 20, of Paris just got his first car too. But for him it has been a lot more than a convenient ride to school or a status symbol among friends.

“It’s a life changer,” Nick said.

Schultz has been a wheelchair user his whole life. Consequently, like many things in the life of a person with physical disabilities, the process of leaning to drive and especially getting that first vehicle was more complicated than for most of us. But the payoff has been tremendous.

Just borrowing the family car wasn’t going to work. Nick needed a vehicle with the right adaptations to allow him to get in independently and to drive using his hands. And of course there was the money. Schultz’s mother, Julia, estimated the cost of the right adaptive equipment could double the cost of a vehicle that would work for Nick.

Nick had taken some driving lessons with an instructor who specialized in adaptive driving. But he only began looking in earnest for a vehicle earlier this year. Nick found a prospect on craigslist offered for sale in Illinois and began exchanging email and photos with the seller trying to figure out if the vehicle had the equipment that would make it work for him. He needed an entry ramp,  a lowered floor, a set of hand controls for the throttle and brake and a steering wheel that could be controlled with one hand.

On Easter, he went down to take a first hand look at the  mini-van and closed the deal.

“It was a good deal, so I decided to buy it,” Nick said.

Then he needed to learn to drive his new ride and get his license. Nick could not get a license until he had the vehicle since he would have to bring it to the exam. After some more lessons and practice cruising around town with family members, he took the test and passed the first time out.

That’s when the doors really started to open for Nick. With reliable transportation, he will more easily be able to get to his college classes. And he was finally able to get a job — at Wal-mart.

The change brought about by the van is transforming for Nick.

“Even though I have a disability, I can do things that other people do, just a little differently,” Schultz said.

And not only is the van and license a life changer for him,  it also is for his family members, especially his mother, who did the majority of driving Nick around wherever he needed to go.

“Now he’s going to be able to drive himself,’ Julia said.

And Nick shared one other advantage of the hand controlled van, at least from his mom’s standpoint.

“My mom’s glad I have to use two hands so I can’t text or talk on the  phone …” Nick said.

Here’s some video where you can see how Nick gets into the van and into the driver’s seat; then he explains the hand controls; then you can see him in smooth on the road action:


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