|dc.description.abstract||Mobility parking spaces can be found in cities and towns throughout New Zealand and in countries around the world. Despite this, there has been very little academic examination of the meaning or importance of driving for people with mobility impairments. What research exists on disabled drivers is almost entirely concerned with safety concerns of allowing disabled people to drive. Cars have been excluded from conceptions of assistive technology and the existing literature on driving and transport generally fails to acknowledge the fact that disabled people do drive cars. Following on from the assumption that disabled people do not drive, car-centric transport systems have even been presented as restricting disabled people’s mobility. A considerable volume of research has been published on transport as a social determinant of health, as well as its role in facilitating social participation and inclusion. This transport literature frames social participation and inclusion in terms of public transport, and acknowledges, but does not address, the inaccessibility of public transport for many disabled people. This thesis seeks to address the knowledge gap regarding social participation and inclusion among drivers with mobility impairments.
This thesis draws upon the author’s own experiences of being a disabled driver. It is written in the context of increasing concerns about global climate change and fluctuating (but rising) fuel prices, both issues which have put pressure on many people to reduce their car use. The aim of this qualitative study was to investigate the transport experiences of work-aged physically disabled drivers in New Zealand. Participants were recruited through the national issuer of mobility parking permits. In-depth interviews were conducted with 27 physically disabled drivers between the ages of 18-64 in New Zealand’s two largest urban centres, Wellington and Auckland, and in various parts of a semi-rural region, the Wairarapa.
The main barriers and enablers of car use identified were funding, the physical environment, and appropriate vehicle modifications. When unable to drive, participants relied on family or friends, as taxis were too expensive, and the alternative was being housebound. While some participants could and did use public transport, most could not, or would not due to their own or others’ bad experiences.
The participants saw cars as enabling them to perform tasks and social roles that they would not otherwise have been able to, due to the lack of other viable transport alternatives. Cars were also used as social and life markers, as driving could influence peoples’ identity and sense of self, including their perception of disability and ‘normality’. As modern societies are based around a system of ‘automobility’, disabled drivers found driving particularly meaningful because they were able to move around environments that are built for cars, in the same manner as non-disabled people, which made the world a less disabling place.
Overall, this thesis finds that cars play a vital role in improving social participation and inclusion for people with mobility impairments. This speaks to Amartya Sen’s capability approach whereby emphasis is placed on the ability to live a life ‘one has reason to value’. In order to achieve this life, people need to be able to access appropriate transport. On this view, present funding models in New Zealand, which create inequalities of access to appropriate transport on the basis of whether a person’s impairment(s) arose from illness or accident, need to be addressed. This study has shown that the voices of people with impairments provide rich insights into meanings of mobility, participation and disability.||