Four-Wheeled Freedom: Riders With Disabilities Use ATVs To Enjoy The Outdoors

December 2015 Powersport News By Karen Umphress

(ED—The following was published in the Nov./Dec. 2009 ATV News insert in American Motorcyclist.)

One thing that I have discovered is that people who are in wheelchairs or are otherwise disabled want to be “normal,” and in the everyday world they don’t get many opportunities to be that way.

When it comes to accessing the beauty of America’s public lands, an ATV or a four-wheel-drive vehicle can be the only way for the less-abled to enjoy the outdoor opportunities that most of us take for granted. Opportunities that, like the rest of us, they have paid for with their federal tax dollars.

About five years ago, Sandie Jungers was in an accident that left her paralyzed. But Jungers hasn’t let that stop her. She remains active doing the things that she loves to do. In 2005, Jungers decided to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair South Dakota pageant. She did so because she felt the program focused on the abilities of women with disabilities. 

“I met many people, and learned so much from some very talented women who just happened to use a wheelchair for mobility,” she says about the experience. 

Jungers is also an avid ATV rider.

“The Black Hills have been a vacation spot for my family all of my life,” she says. “I have many memories of vacations as a young girl, and also with our own children. Driving an ATV allows me to be deep into the heart of the Hills, a place I truly love.

“There is nothing better than a day with family and friends on an ATV, lunch by a gurgling creek, and the smell of pine. Add in the other benefits of exploring old mines, or seeing wildlife up close, and the day gets better.

“I enjoy riding ATVs because that is one thing that I can do in the same way I did before my accident,” she says. “Now that I am a paraplegic, many things have to be modified or altered. The automatic ATV allows me to get out and have fun just like before and to be ‘normal.’”

Iowan Dan Kleen was an avid off-road motorcyclist all of his life when, in 1987, he had an accident that left him a paraplegic. He switched from motorcycles to ATVs after the accident so that he could still enjoy OHV riding and there was little modification that needed to be done to the ATV for him to use it.

“An ATV is a great equalizer,” says Kleen, who is president of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) that works to foster responsible OHV recreation.

He is also an avid hunter. Using an ATV for hunting allows Kleen and others with disabilities to get to their hunting spots.

“As a hunter with a physical disability, I’m pleased to report that a growing number of states recognize the value of ATVs to those of us with disabilities,” he says. “Without an ATV, my hunting would be limited to areas I can access with my wheelchair or pickup. My ATV is a lot better in mud and snow, and going up and downs hills, then my chair.”  

Legislation passed in West Virginia allows riders using the Hatfield-McCoy trail system to ride into local communities. So in that area of the country, it’s not uncommon to see OHVs traveling on city streets.

This has benefited the people of the communities in both social and economic ways, including those with disabilities.

Stephen “Bandit” Caldwell is one such person. A paraplegic who lives in Accoville, WV—about five miles from the Hatfield-McCoy’s Rockhouse Trailhead—Caldwell’s primary means of transportation are his ATVs. He has logged more than 39,000 miles on his two machines in five years.  

When he is on an ATV, Caldwell is just like everyone else who is riding an OHV. When running errands, the hospitable people in this region come out of the stores to assist him.

“I have been using an ATV since I was 4.5 years old,” he says when asked why he started using his ATV for transportation. 

Caldwell straps his wheelchair to the back of his machine, which allows him to spend all day away from camp, and then be able to go into a restaurant when stopped for a break. His ATV is also useful for plowing his driveway in the winter.  

As America’s population continues to age, ATVs and other four-wheel-drive vehicles have become an increasingly popular means of transportation and recreation for thousands of tax-paying citizens. For some, OHVs are their only form of outdoor recreation. 

Ask yourself: How will you get into the woods 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years from now? That’s why we need to continually advocate for our rights as responsible OHV riders. It may just be that, in the future, you too will rely on an OHV to enjoy the natural world around you.

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