July Blog “Autonomous Cars and Wheel Chairs”

When Deb and I got married, almost 30 years ago, we wanted to find a Church we both could attend without compromising who we were then. Deb was Catholic and I was a Congregational (after 20 years as a Mormon).  We visited many churches in Worcester, Massachusetts (where we still live in the same house) and decided on the United Church of Christ in a beautiful brown stone building that was over 150 years old. The Minister was great, as was the choir and the youth group was active.  A short drive from our house. It was there we met Marylyn Kerr, about our age (early 40’s) that was confined to a wheel chair. Her Father and Mother were active and we got to know the Kerr family well. I was running my auto repair shop at the time and tried to keep work and church life separate. One Sunday Marylyn’s wheel chair van had a problem after she parked it. The right rear suspension lowered via a cable / motor system to allow the side ramp to open at an angle easier to navigate and was stuck in that position.  Someone summoned me from “coffee hour” and I walked outside to see if I could help. Technicians should never wear nice clothes to church. Accessing the problem while lying on the ground, I knew I could fix it. Marylyn rolled into the back of the van, while I moved the passenger seat into the driver’s position. Now we set off with me using hand controls and my smiling friend in the back, strapped in place. Marylyn has MD (muscular dystrophy) and the mobility of her motorized wheel chair and the converted van made her life more social.

Once at my shop, Marylyn disembarked and I moved the van to an empty lift. The motor had failed, but a manual crank was there so I could unwind the cable and let the suspension move freely again. I asked Marylyn to come over and see what the problem was. She asked “Can I get under the van?” “Yes”, I replied. She explained that no one had ever let her in the shop before. That day in the shop was an education for me as well as her.

Now we have almost completed the technological work of allowing hundreds of thousands of people all over the world the mobility most of us just take for granted as we hop in and out of our cars and trucks every day. And what moved this technology ahead? Safety and emissions. As a tech you know what the industry has had to do to keep up with regulations.  The indirect result of the last 50 years of advancements will mean a lot to people like Marylyn.