A driving force: Customized van, specialized driving lessons give teen with Spina bifida new freedom

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MUSKEGO -- Many teens look forward to the day they receive their driver’s license. A car offers independence and mobility. But for those living with a disability, it's not as simple as grabbing the keys and heading out.

On the track, he breaks records with his speed.

“Last year, I won the state championship," Joe Schubert said.

Joe Schubert

Joe Schubert

And on the court, Schubert is nothing short of a slam dunk.

“In winter, I play wheelchair basketball for the Milwaukee Junior Bucks,” Schubert said.

Joe Schubert

Joe Schubert

Sixteen-year-old Schubert told FOX6 News he is looking forward to getting his driver's license.

FOX6 News caught up with Schubert as he was nearing the end of a 10-hour behind-the-wheel course with his instructor, Paul Schmidt.

There’s one thing that made the lessons different than most: Schubert learned to drive using only his hands.

Joe Schubert

Joe Schubert

“I was born with Spina bifida. It’s where your spine is separated before you were born," Schubert said.

Paul Schmidt owns a company called Adaptive Driving Specialists. He’s a licensed occupational therapist, licensed driving instructor and certified driver rehabilitation specialist.

“Everyone has to pass the same test to get a license -- whether you have a disability or not,” Schmidt said.

Paul Schmidt and Joe Schubert

Paul Schmidt and Joe Schubert

Schmidt works with a number of clients, from the physically or cognitively disabled to the elderly.

Joe Schubert

Joe Schubert

“You do an initial evaluation, which is a comprehensive assessment of somebody’s overall functioning: visual skills, cognitive skills, physically ability. You take that whole picture and say, 'what does this person need to be a driver?'" Schmidt said.

Paul Schmidt

Paul Schmidt

In Schubert’s case, it was a van that’s equipped with hand-controls. A level to the right of the driver operates the gas and brake. The other hand remains on the steering wheel. There’s a spinner knob attached to allow the driver full control with one hand.

Schubert didn’t get to test-drive his new Dodge Grand Caravan before his family bought it. The customizations came after the purchase. There’s plenty of room in the back for all of the active teen’s equipment.

Paul Schmidt and Joe Schubert

Paul Schmidt and Joe Schubert

"I got up to three wheelchairs at a time with my basketball chair, my track chair and this chair. We need all the space we can get," Schubert said.

Joe Schubert

Joe Schubert

The van will come in handy for Schubert’s next big milestone. He’ll graduate from Marquette University High School in spring of 2017 and hopes to attend the University of Illinois in Champaign soon after. The van will give him a new layer of independence.

“It gives me more of an opportunity to do things on my own, rather than have my parents drive me to the track or school or whatever," Schubert said.

“Everything that a ‘normal’ person can do, like basketball or track or driving, a disabled person -- physical, cognitive or any other -- can do just as well. Joe Schubert can do what anybody else can," Schmidt said.

Joe Schubert

Joe Schubert

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