Car saga | A disability allegory

In which we grew two whole people in the time it took us to find a new car…

Lucy, James, Mainie and Viola Catchpole with their new car
At last…

We have a new car. I’ve been hoping to say that for 4 years. But dear god nothing is simple. And maybe our unexciting car saga is an allegory – for the gap between non-disabled world and disabled world. Maybe?

Our old car sputtered its last in 2018 – I posted about it on Instagram. (Twice. It was a big deal.)

I was genuinely sad – my mother bought me that car before she died. But also, it’s a rite of passage. It had been perfect for me as a young woman in 2002 – a mobility aid really, back when I could walk. Later, I taught James to drive in it.

But now we had children – we needed a family car.

We’d needed one for a while, really – at least since 2014, when we only made it to the hospital for my c-section thanks to a 5am jumpstart from our neighbours.

Any normal person would at that point – given money was not the issue – buy a car. The end. But, disability…

Before I became disabled, I imagined getting a new car as a wheelchair user would look something like:

  • Have money
  • Consult disability car expert
  • Wait for adaptations
  • New car

In reality – I don’t want to shock you, but – there is no disability car whisperer.

James found someone who told us about some gadgety adaptations – none were relevant. Want an expensive device that swings the whole front passenger seat round to eject you onto the pavement? That (sort of) exists. Hand controls? Also exist. Other than that, we were on our own.

My needs were boring – not the sort of things that excite engineers. Or car salesmen. Turns out, absolutely nobody is interested in the finer points of door aperture-width, dimensions of footwells, or the way the ergonomics of car seat design affect the stability of transfer boards.

And car salesmen think one-legged men who complain about narrow footwells are weird.

In the end, we bought an old banger – a facsimile of our original car – to fill what turned out to be a 4 year gap. There were many, many more jumpstarts, (and one new baby).

Now finally this summer, James’s years of trailing round forecourts, and encyclopaedic knowledge of footwell dimensions, paid off.

Lucy, James, Mainie and Viola Catchpole with their new car
A happy ending. Eventually.

WE HAVE A NEW CAR! A miraculous, comfortable new car – with wide footwells and transferable seats. Here’s to the next 15 years of it – maybe we can even push it to 20 this time…

Lucy Catchpole

Lucy Catchpole

[Image description:

First image – all four of us are with our – new – car. We’re a white family with brown hair. Lucy’s sitting in the car. James, a one-legged man on crutches, is standing in front of it. Our daughters, age 3 and 7, are sitting on the roof.

Second image – a photo of James from 2004 – he’s 23 or so, with very short hair. He’s packing up our little silver Peugeot. Text reads “2004 – the old car” and “Yes, it was my originally my car.
But no – there are apparently no photos of young me with it. Luckily, I did take this of James.”

Third image – an old 2018 instagram post. Lucy sitting in the car in a dark raspberry beret. Mainie, age 3, is in her car seat behind me. Text over the top reads “2018 – still the old car”.

A grid of six – photos of Lucy, James and 3yo Mainie visiting a BMW garage – ending with a failed jumpstart for our old peugeot and us abandoning it on the forecourt.]

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