SAFETY FIRST, EVEN FOR DRIVER WITH­OUT ARMS

In­de­pen­dence is key for man de­ter­mined to be a mas­ter of the roads

The Star Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KHAYA KOKO AND BOTHO MOLOSANKWE khaya.koko@inl.co.za botho.molosankwe@inl.co.za

FOR MOST peo­ple, get­ting into a car and strap­ping on a seat­belt doesn’t re­quire much ef­fort.

How­ever, when you’re a driver who doesn’t have arms, like Dolf Jonker, the process is quite dif­fer­ent.

To en­sure his safety, the 57-year-old uses a trun­cated clothes hanger as a hook to pull the seat­belt. He then pulls it with his teeth to­wards his right foot, which then finishes off the job by clamp­ing the belt into its holder.

From there, he uses his feet to start the car us­ing a spe­cial sys­tem – which has ev­ery­thing from the steer­ing wheel, ac­cel­er­a­tor, hooter, brake and in­di­ca­tors – lo­cated at the foot ped­als.

Many peo­ple, es­pe­cially truck driv­ers who can see from a higher van­tage point that Jonker drives with­out arms, are be­mused and some­times stare at him. “They see this thing mov­ing but there’s no steer­ing wheel... that’s a bit con­fus­ing. If I see peo­ple look­ing, I share with them, and show them how it’s done. You need to ed­u­cate peo­ple.”

Jonker, a group in­vest­ment man­ager for the Cen­tral En­ergy Fund, was born with­out arms, but al­ways knew that his dis­abil­ity wasn’t go­ing to stop him from driv­ing.

While grow­ing up, he was mo­ti­vated by a foot-and-mouth painter, Phillip Swanepoel – who had the same dis­abil­ity – and drove him­self around in a mod­i­fied car.

Jonker bought his first car at the age of 22 and taught him­self to drive as there was no driv­ing school to cater for his dis­abil­ity.

It took him only three months be­fore go­ing for his test. How­ever, the li­cens­ing sta­tion of­fi­cer was a bun­dle of nerves that day as he had never tested some­one driv­ing with­out arms be­fore.

“He was pet­ri­fied. The space he made me park in was big enough for a truck,” Jonker re­calls.

De­spite its be­ing his first at­tempt, Jonker passed his test and has been a con­stant source of be­muse­ment on the roads ever since.

His big­gest chal­lenge so far has been taxis, but Jonker says he knows how to deal with them. “I just drive just like them, I have no fear. I won’t give them a chance be­cause they in­tim­i­date you to just push in,” he says, laugh­ing.

Jonker’s cur­rent car, a Toy­ota For­tuner, is the fifth car he has owned and mod­i­fied. He buys stan­dard cars and then re­builds them to ac­com­mo­date his dis­abil­ity.

Some­times the mod­i­fi­ca­tion is a chal­lenge. “The last one was very dif­fi­cult be­cause of the op­tic fi­bres in the car. We met the chal­lenges be­cause even the man­u­fac­tur­ers of the car don’t have the knowl­edge.”

The mod­i­fi­ca­tion on his cur­rent car cost R50 000, and he had to go all the way to Som­er­set West in the Western Cape.

Un­like some dis­abled peo­ple who use more com­put­erised sys­tems like joy­sticks for con­trols, Jonker isn’t a fan of that kind of tech­nol­ogy.

“I need to be me­chan­i­cal. If I turn that steer­ing wheel, it needs to turn. There should be no elec­tri­cal fail­ure or stuff like that. I don’t want tech­nol­ogy to fail on me.”

How­ever, if there’s a prob­lem with his car, he takes it to any garage. The only thing is that he has to drive the car there him­self as other peo­ple would not know how.

“My ac­cel­er­a­tor is on the left-hand side and the brakes on the right. Gears are nor­mal and the steer­ing wheel is by the right foot.

“I think that if you want to be in­de­pen­dent, you will have to learn how to drive. I was with­out a car to­wards the end of last year be­cause my pre­vi­ous one was giv­ing me prob­lems. My wife had to take me ev­ery­where I needed to be – she was very ir­ri­tated with me,” he jokes, adding he has been hap­pily mar­ried for 18 years.

“It is dif­fi­cult for a dis­abled per­son to al­ways ask some­one to take them some­where. Pub­lic trans­port in South Africa is a prob­lem.”

Jonker’s views about pub­lic trans­port are sup­ported by Caro­line Rule, an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist who as­sesses phys­i­cally dis­abled peo­ple to see if they have the nec­es­sary func­tion­al­ity to be able to drive. She then as­sists them to find a driv­ing school which has spe­cially adapted cars.

The driv­ing school she works closely with, Driv­ing Am­bi­tions, is a project run by the QuadPara As­so­ci­a­tion and fo­cuses mainly on peo­ple in wheel­chairs.

They hold fundrais­ing events to sub­sidise peo­ple and pro­vide free lessons for un­em­ployed dis­abled peo­ple.

“For any­body who’s in a wheel­chair and ap­plies to Driv­ing Am­bi­tions, they do what they call a means test. Peo­ple will have to de­clare how much they earn,” Rule said, adding that peo­ple earn­ing less than R10 000 get up to an 80% dis­count at the driv­ing school.

“But if you are un­em­ployed or on a dis­abil­ity grant, then you will be spon­sored for up to 10 lessons for free, which can also in­clude an as­sess­ment with me,” she said.

She ad­mit­ted it was ex­pen­sive for an or­di­nary per­son to mod­ify cars, which was why they were in need of funds to as­sist more dis­abled peo­ple in des­per­ate need of a li­cence to en­hance their chances of get­ting a job.

‘It’s dif­fi­cult to al­ways have to ask some­one’

PEDAL POWER: Dolf Jonker uses a spe­cial shoe which is at­tached to his cus­tomised steer­ing wheel to op­er­ate his ve­hi­cle.

PIC­TURES: BHEKIKHAYA MABASO

LOOK­ING AHEAD: Dolf Jonker us­ing his right foot to put on his driv­ing glasses.

FOOT-AND-MOUTH MA­NOEU­VRE: Dolf Jonker uses a coat hanger in his mouth to grip his seat­belt, trans­fer­ring it to his right foot and clamp­ing it in the seat­belt holder.

CUS­TOM-MADE: Dolf Jonker’s spe­cial orange shoe is at­tached to his cus­tomised steer­ing wheel, which en­ables him to op­er­ate his ve­hi­cle.

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