For the last 28 years, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) has been quietly improving the lives of people suffering from a myriad of life-changing illnesses — from debilitating arthritis to paralysis — that prevent them from driving. The four-member TTI team from the Riverside Campus responsible for improving mobility for this population has just learned that the long-running contract with the Texas Department of Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has been renewed for another two years.
“I would have to say that this project is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my career,” says Lance Bullard, head of TTI’s Safety and Structural Systems Division. He is also the DARS project engineer. “To see the tears of joy from these people gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we helped change their lives for the better. It’s a great feeling.”
Since 1985, TTI has been an integral part of making sure that disabled individuals are able to drive. TTI’s role is multi-faceted and includes inspecting the adaptive equipment prescribed for individuals. The equipment, from various manufacturers, includes hand-control devices, pedal modifications, restraint systems, wheelchair ramps, lifts, and driver-seat adaptations.
“We have two inspectors who review the paperwork to make sure that, on paper at least, the prescribed equipment matches an individual’s needs,” says Associate Research Specialist Rebecca Haug. “They make sure the order is fairly priced and it meets DARS standards.”
Once the new adaptive equipment is installed, the vehicle and its new components are inspected. And, just as importantly, TTI ensures the DARS customer can operate the equipment safely and easily.
The Institute maintains an equipment database and reviews new products to make sure they are acceptable for the DARS program. Bullard and Research Technician Eric Bradley will also visit the products’ manufacturers to make sure quality-control measures are being met.
But the most rewarding part of the job is meeting with the customers as they get into their newly equipped vehicle for the first time.
“They suddenly realize that, finally, they will be on the road again,” says Bullard. “Being able to drive means a return of their independence and freedom. No longer will they have to rely on someone else for transportation. For them, it’s a turning point in their lives.”