Ste Purse is an actor and disability campaigner who spent many years liaising with Motability in his role at a nationwide vehicle breakdown and recovery firm. In this new post, Ste tells us about his journey from a car to a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) and how he, the assessor and the team at Motability worked together to find the vehicle that worked for Ste, his family and his powerchair.
August 2020 changed everything; my wife and I learned that we were expecting our first child. This was wonderful news but raised a few questions about how we as a family would go about our daily lives. My name is Steve, I am 48 and have short stature, lumbar lordosis, and a severe respiratory condition. I use a wheelchair most of the time and our transportation needs are currently met with an old BMW 5 series estate and a SEAT Leon estate that I lease through the Motability Scheme.
The plan was to sell the BMW once we had taken delivery of the SEAT. Until this time I had coped with a manual wheelchair but had always wanted to be more independent. Fortuitously, soon after getting the SEAT Leon, I applied for and was awarded funding for an all-terrain powerchair, which meant I could go for walks with my wife and would no longer be restricted to pavements.
However, the plan to sell the BMW was thwarted by the fact the powerchair would not fit into the boot of the SEAT Leon. So, we had to keep the BMW as its boot is cavernous.
It was at around this time I started on a new career path and became a professional actor. Previously I had worked for one of the main motoring organisations and for several years was heavily involved in their role as a service provider to the Motability Scheme. I left in 2011 as my health deteriorated and subsequently studied for a degree in Forensic Psychology to keep my mind active which is where I met Georgina, and in 2019 we were married.
The news that I was going to be a father made me take a fresh look at my transportation needs as my current setup was simply not going to work. I wanted the ability to shop and go out on my own rather than always relying on my wife. I also want to be able to go to auditions and castings by myself, as it wouldn’t be fair to drag my wife and child around the country at short notice.
There was only one solution I could come up with, I needed a WAV! With that in mind, we made the decision to ask Motability for an early termination of our SEAT Leon and start the process of getting a new WAV. As a self-employed actor during the pandemic, my income was zero so I would have to request a charitable grant from Motability. I knew from the outset that this would not be a short process, and there were no guarantees that my application would be successful.
The first stage of the process was the initial phone call to Motability to ask for an early termination. The termination was agreed, and I was asked to fill out a grant application with proof of the benefits I receive.
Initially my grant application for a WAV that I could drive was rejected because ‘drive from’ WAVs (vehicles that allow the wheelchair user to drive from the comfort of their wheelchair) are just so expensive. Motability said that they wanted to look at lower cost options first. This was a hard blow to take. I felt that unless I could drive independently, without my wife, I could not be the father and husband I wanted to be. I wanted to be able to work to support my family.
I immediately asked them to reconsider their decision citing my circumstances and my need for an independent solution. Consequently, I had to go through the process of viewing and trying a lower cost solution before other options would be considered.
Motability arranged for a 'rear passenger' type Volkswagen Caddy WAV to be brought out to my home for an assessment. It was a lovely vehicle, nice inside with a high-quality conversion. The issue for me was that it did not have an ‘internal transfer’ set up inside. To drive a standard rear passenger WAV, after loading and securing my powerchair via the ramp at the back of the vehicle I would have to exit the vehicle via the side door, before getting back in via the driver’s door. Even with assistance I could not manage this without becoming breathless. I also had safety concerns for those times when I would be exiting the vehicle while parked on a roadside. I would often be getting out, with crutches, into traffic. At 3ft tall and being quite unsteady on crutches I did not consider this to be safe and thankfully neither did the assessor.
We both agreed that an ‘internal transfer’ or a 'drive from' WAV would be the only safe, suitable solution and the assessor said that his report back to Motability would clearly reflect this. After several months wait (due to COVID and Christmas), and to my huge relief, Motability finally agreed to an ‘internal transfer’ solution that would allow me to safely and comfortably transfer from my powerchair to the driver seat while inside the vehicle.
This was the turning point, and I finally realised that I would be able to have the life I wanted, an independent life.
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