Independent mobility consultant Helen Dolphin MBE has been a Motability Scheme customer since 1999 and in July this year, she renewed her lease for the fourth time. Over the next four months, Helen will be sharing her Motability Scheme journey with us. Her articles will include information about learning to drive and selecting her first car, what you need to know about adaptations, Helen’s experience on the Scheme over the past 19 years, and the considerations and process that she went through whilst choosing her next car. In the first article of the series, Helen tells us about the beginning of her Motability Scheme journey.
On Boxing Day 1997, I was admitted to Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge with meningococcal septicaemia, with an extremely poor prognosis on admission. My parents were told that if I was going to live I’d be left with life-changing injuries because the only way for doctors to save my life was to amputate all four of my limbs. Some weeks later, when I came out of my coma, I had become a multiple amputee.
It took me a while to process that firstly, I was disabled and secondly, what did that mean for me? For a long time, I thought I would just get better and it took weeks for it to sink in that virtually nothing would be the same again. I was in hospital for many months, recovering from my numerous skin grafts and operations and in a way I lived in a hospital bubble. I didn’t need to think about going anywhere as I lived in my bed, in a room, on a plastic surgery ward. All that changed when I finally left the hospital and wanted to start getting out and about. I found myself constantly having to rely on my parents for lifts and this was not a good solution for anyone, so I got thinking about the possibility of driving myself.
At the time, I was in receipt of the Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance, and received a leaflet with the benefit letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) informing me about the Motability Scheme, notifying me that to join, I’d simply have to exchange my mobility allowance to lease a car. This sounded like a good option to me as I didn’t have any money to buy my own car. However, before I even started looking at what vehicle I thought I might fancy I decided I’d best find out if it was going to be possible for me to drive.
The first thing I did was contact the DVLA to inform them that I’d become disabled. They asked me to surrender my driving licence which I did. They then sent me to the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation (QEF) which is part of what was known as the Forum of Mobility Centres (now Driving Mobility) to assess my ability to drive. At my assessment, I had to demonstrate how much strength and dexterity I had as well as my cognitive skills. I was then allowed to drive a vehicle on a nearby track. After my assessment, I was told there was no medical reason why I couldn’t drive and they would inform the DVLA that this was the case. I was also recommended a lot of driving adaptations and was told I’d probably need to consider a drive from Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV).
A few weeks after my assessment I received my new driving licence from the DVLA stating what adaptations I needed. Although the list was extensive I now knew what I needed to drive. Although I didn’t think I could afford a WAV I decided to attend a Motability Scheme Big Event to see if there were other affordable options. Attending the event was probably the best thing I did as despite being able to see numerous cars available on the Scheme, all in one place, I also met an adaptations installer who told me about vehicles he’d adapted for people who had been affected by the drug Thalidomide and so had disabilities similar to mine. I spoke at length to him about the fact that I thought I needed a WAV and couldn’t afford one and he asked me if I’d considered a wheelchair hoist. I then made an appointment to travel up to his workshop in Batley North Yorkshire to discuss what vehicle I would need. He advised me to get a large car with a big boot and then he would adapt it for me to drive.
I then went back home and with my Dad, scouted around some local car show rooms before deciding that a Honda Shuttle would suit my needs. Back in the late 1990’s, the Motability Scheme was still quite a new concept to a lot of car dealers and the Honda dealership I visited had only just come on board, making me one of their first Motability Scheme customers.
The dealer filled in all the paperwork and a short time later I was informed that my vehicle was on its way to the installer to have the adaptations fitted. A few weeks later I was on my way to the installer’s workshop so that they could fit the adaptations to my requirements. It was a great moment to get in my car and drive it up and down the road to get comfortable. With a steering cup and push pull hand controls, I felt completely safe. He also explained how the hoist worked and showed me how I could attach my powered wheelchair so it could be lifted in and out. A short time later it was delivered back to Honda and I picked up my car.
For the first time in a very long time I had my independence back, I could go anywhere I wanted and I felt like myself again.
Find out how the Scheme can help you get your independence back
The Motability Scheme offers an all-inclusive package that allows anyone in receipt of higher rate mobility allowances (such as the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment or the Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance) to use their mobility allowance to lease a car, scooter, powered wheelchair or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle. The Scheme provides flexible and hassle-free access to a brand new, reliable vehicle of your choice – giving you greater freedom, everyday.
If you’d like us to send you more information about the Motability Scheme, request a free information pack below or watch our customer videos to see how the Scheme has helped make a difference to their day-to-day lives.