An orange Mini Clubman car adapted for use for driver, Ed Freeman, living with impairements caused by the drug compound thalidomide. In order to give more headroom, the floor was lowered and the controls have been adapted. Ed even included a mini bar for his friends to use. England, c.1978-1979.
Passing your driving test and buying your first car is often viewed as the first chance at freedom for young people, and this is even more prevalent for disabled drivers. In 1978, for nineteen-year-old Ed Freeman, this Mini provided exactly that.
Before Ed, no-one with four limb deficiencies had driven before, so lots of adjustments had to be made to accommodate him. He had originally wanted a Mini Cooper, but his electric wheelchair would not have fit with the much lower roof. When the car fitters suggested a higher roof, Ed responded with, “There’s no way I’m driving an ice cream van!”, and a compromise was met with the floor being lowered and a ramp being installed.
Any adjustments made were a bit makeshift and slightly haphazard; there are many stories from people living with impairments caused by thalidomide about gear levers coming off in pub car parks and needing fellow drinkers to give it a push, as well as whole steering wheels falling off into laps while driving down a four-lane motorway.
While cars provided drivers with shortened limbs a new level of freedom, this independence was not felt by everyone. Alongside phocomelia, the medical term for shortened limbs, thalidomide can affect people’s vision, meaning that some people would never be able to drive. One participant remarked that she could justify to herself that she could not drive because she had no arms, but then people with no arms started to drive and she began to feel more disabled because of it.