As you may know, I have an interest in roads. You probably remember my blog about the roads in Adams County. I have always had an interest in roads. During my teenage years I wanted to be able to drive and explore all the roads that I never was on. Age 16 came and I did not start preparing to get my driver’s license. You may ask why?
My eyes don’t work as well as most people, I have a spatial disability. I have trouble with such things as geometry, distance, and time. At one time there was a concern that I wouldn’t be able to get a license. This was a hard thing to accept but it was believed. One day my parents took me to Hershey Medical Center to find out if it would be possible for me to get a license. When it came to the written part of the exam I would do fine, the trouble was with the physical part. The driving instructor took me out on the road and had me drive. After the end of the evaluation he told my parents and me that he thought I wouldn’t be able to learn to drive. He also said there was one possible way I could learn to drive, though it would be a long shot. If I did a series of eye exercises I might be able to improve my vision enough to be able to drive.
This experience happened during my early college years. A thing to note was that I didn’t have a set place to go to college or a set major. When I went to take college classes after high school, I took a few classes to get “my feet wet” at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) in Gettysburg.
Dr. Joseph Bytof entered the picture as the person who was able to put together vision therapy for me-a series of exercises to try improve the way my eyes worked so I could learn to drive. At the same time we found out about The Commonwealth Institute at Hiram G. Andrews Center, which was a college for students with disabilities. Most of their programs were not academic, but they had a few. The big thing they had was Occupational Therapists who were willing to help me work on my eye exercises that Dr. Bytof planned, if I chose to go there.
Hiram was a difficult experience for me due to it being my first time away from home. Lacking social skills and friends and being hours away also didn’t help. I majored in bookkeeping, since I took Accounting I senior year in high school and didn’t think it was that bad. It was the only academic major they had that would work for me. Also I do like numbers. I went to Hiram mostly for the eye therapy and eventual driver’s training, and I did receive an associate’s degree from there.
I was at Hiram for four semesters including the summer. I started the eye therapy the first semester. I worked really hard at it. Slowly but surely they started to notice improvement in my eyes. Some examples of eye therapy would be having me do word searches, complete various physical activities while wearing prism glasses (glasses that changed your perception of things) and bouncing a giant exercise ball back and forth. Eventually in the fourth term, they told me I was ready to take the test to see if I could enroll in their on-site driving program. What this meant was that they thought my eyes improved enough to be able to learn how to drive. They had me do a test where I participated in a litany of activities and tests to see how my eyes responded. When I was done, they told me I could get driver’s license training.
There was one major problem. The training was booked during the remainder of the fourth term which was my last term at the school. I wouldn’t be able to get in the program and learn to drive. Besides upsetting me, this also upset my parents who gave Hiram a call and talked to them about the situation. The result was the school calling a special agency that provided private driving lessons.
I remember my first day of on-the-road driving instruction. A lady taught me, and I learned to drive in a Ford Focus. We first started out in parking lots and then progressed to driving in the city (Johnstown, Pennsylvania is where Hiram is located). A session was also spent driving on rural roads and a day on the highway. The rest of the time was spent on learning to parallel park, most likely everyone’s least favorite part of learning to drive. It took me two tries at the driver’s license center for me to get my license. Parallel parking is what did me in on my first try. Once I passed this segment on my second try, I was golden! The rest of the test was simple driving. For those who might not be aware, in the 2000s when people took their driver’s test, it was conducted in two sections. The first section was parallel parking. If you passed this section you moved on to the driving portion. If you failed parallel parking, they had you drive from the parallel parking area back to the DMV which was around the block.
If you think I remember the first day of training well, I remember the day I got my license even better. The day I got it was December 6th, 2001. After I got my license my instructor asked me if I wanted to go anywhere in particular or if I wanted to drive back to Hiram. I said I wanted to go to the Galleria Mall for a while. I drove from the DMV to the mall where I went inside to look around, and enjoy the ambiance of the Christmas Season and the instructor returned to work. I returned via the bus like normal. When I got back to my dorm, I sent an email to my parents telling them that I got my license. Everyone was so excited.
Now this is not the end of the story. I had gotten my driver’s license with only two weeks of training and that included practicing parallel parking. When I was finished at Hiram there was still a process I went through before I was driving places on my own. My parents were afraid at first. It wasn’t until 2003 that I was driving independently. My first trips driving at home were with my dad or mom riding along. The car I was driving had a hood ornament in the center, and I used it to help judge where my car was on the road. The next was a short trip where I was driving alone from my house to my grandmother’s house. She lived close by. If it wasn’t for the trees in the way, her house could be seen from my house. The trip was successful, and my parents watched for as long as they could. My only difficulty was making the turn on to Mill Road where my grandma lived since I couldn’t find the turn signal in that particular car.
As time went along I learned to drive farther to places. When I started at HACC for the second time (by now I had a major in accounting established, was in a dual enrollment program between the two schools, and taking all the classes I could at HACC), my dad would drive me there and pick me up when I was done. As the months went by I was taught how to drive to HACC so I could take myself to classes. On Valentine’s Day 2003, I finally took my first trip to explore roads that I hadn’t been on before, by myself. It was so exciting! During the late morning and early afternoon, it felt so good to be able to turn on any road I had an interest in and see where it went. I finally got to explore roads. At this time I had no idea that years later I would set a goal to drive on all the roads in the county and follow through with it.
Even to this day I am still working on my driving skills. Currently I’m working on learning to drive in the city of York, and I’m still practicing driving on U.S. 15 (a highway with entrance ramps and exits). By now I even practice getting on 15 by myself sometimes since it saves time. Route 15 was a real time saver for me when traveling through Adams County to drive on all of the public roads.
As can be gathered from this post, getting my license and progressing to driving by myself has been a long process. It was also a rewarding process. It’s still amazing to think about when I take the time to reflect on it.
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