As a 13-year-old, Mel Harrison dreamt of driving for a living.
“My Dad delivered crumpets for Tip Top and I sometimes used to help him on his rounds. Back then, I wanted to be a Truck Driver like Dad. “
At 14, Mel received a diagnosis that put that future in doubt.
“I am an incomplete T10 paraplegic with Arachnoid cysts (bags of fluid on my lower part of my spine and my neck), Kyphosis and Scoliosis. I now get around in a wheelchair … when I’m not driving.”
Driving for Work is Not Hard Work
Mel hasn’t let her disability hold her back, nor define her.
Whilst she isn’t behind the wheel of a truck for a living, a life on the road is, in fact, central to her work, as Mel drives herself all around NSW as a motivational speaker, educator and blogger for her own company, Sitting Low Reaching High.
Also, as a Training Manager for People with Disability Australia, Mel covers a lot of ground right across Australia and, if training in NSW, mostly by car.
“It’s not unusual for me to drive 6 hours. I’m often in Newcastle, Kempsey, or driving down to the South Coast”.
“Driving has been a key part of my work for a while, but it’s taken the Satellite Accelerator to rekindle that pure love of driving.”
Discovering New Hand Controls
Up until recently, Mel didn’t think anything could be much better than the hand controls she had been using to drive for the past two decades: a push-pull brake/accelerator allied to a spinner knob for steering.
With a new car on the horizon – having kept her existing car on the road for an impressive 15 years – Mel got quotes for another push-pull system to be installed.
When a friend asked if she had looked at alternatives, Mel remembered something she had seen at a Disability Expo a few years before and thought there would be no harm in having a test drive.
Jump forward to now, and Mel is the proud owner of a new car with a Fadiel Satellite Accelerator installed by Total Ability, the exclusive distributor of Fadiel Italiana products and she hasn’t looked back.
Satellite Accelerator: Key Differences
As Mel explains, “There really is no comparison when it comes to fatigue from driving: The Satellite Accelerator is so far and away better, I wish I’d looked into it more after the expo.”
“I had the new controls in time for my recent trip to Dubbo and the difference was amazing. I called my Dad after the drive and said I think I now understand what it must feel like driving with legs! I was mentally tired, like anyone would be after concentrating for such a long drive, but physically I felt so much better than would have been the case before.”
Mel notes a few other changes aside from driver fatigue: “Having two hands on the wheel most of the time means I now feel safer. My driving is much smoother and feels more natural.”
“Getting around town also feels easier and safer, it’s not just the long trips. Just this morning I was driving in heavy rain and wind in Sydney and the Satellite Accelerator made such a noticeable difference. I am so much more confident and able to control the car in challenging conditions.”
Transition to New Controls
Having spent the best part of two decades with the push-pull system, Mel did have adjustments to make.
“The muscle memory of 18 years driving one way meant that it took me a bit of time getting used to a new way of driving. Everything became second nature after a few weeks. As my driving instructor, Nathaniel, explained, it would have been even easier if I’d been learning to drive with hand controls for the first time.”
“I notice that I’ve relaxed a lot more now. Before I was a little tense as I got used to the system and even recently ordered some padding for the glove but I’m not sure I need it now.”
Mention of her driving instructor prompted us to ask about the process for applying for new hand controls.
Negotiating the NDIS
Mel explains that the new controls required a revised driving licence, and she was able to negotiate the NDIS process, but as everyone has experienced, it’s not completely straight forward.
“So, I needed to change the conditions on my driving licence and take a new test. I chose Nathaniel as an instructor as he had the Satellite Accelerator already installed on his car.”
“In terms of the NDIA, there is a bit of a catch 22 in that they won’t approve the new hand controls until I had purchased my new car, but I asked for a review because I pointed out that to get a new car I would have to sell or part exchange my old car, and if I then didn’t get approval for my hand controls for some reason, I might have a significant period of time without a car.”
The NDIA allowed Mel to put a deposit down on a car, show them the proof of the deposit, then get the Driver OT assessment confirming the recommended hand controls she needed, and then they would approve it.
“From that point, it was quite an easy process because I was confident the Driving OT would recommend the Satellite Accelerator and put down clear reasons for why I need it.”
“The NDIA knew that I required a new driving licence, and as soon as I passed the driving test, I sent the proof to the NDIA Planner and within 45 minutes he had approved the money to buy and install the hand controls for my car!”
“Having said that, I was still without a car for a couple of weeks. I put the deposit down for the car on 3rd Feb, and the dealership held the car until the 31st of March whilst that initial approval process took place.”
“My driving test was on 9th April, I received funding the same day, and it took about a week to have the car fitted with the new hand controls – it was returned to me on 16th April.”
For Mel, finding driving such a pleasure reminds her of that time, as a child, she thought driving would be her career.
“I still wouldn’t mind having a go on a 6-wheel semi-trailer. I think I’d love to drive anything as long as I can use my Satellite Accelerator!”
Would you love to drive, but don’t know where to start? Download our FREE “Complete Guide to Driving With Disability” here.