Volume 1, Number 6 - January 18, 2011

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Mark Pulaski
Mark Pulaski
Wolfson Campus Bureau Chief / A&E Editor

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Picture of Luis Vazquez
Moving Forward: Twenty-one-year-old Luis Vazquez hopes to purchase a vehicle to enable him to be more independent. MARK PULASKI / THE REPORTER

On The Road To Independence

By Mark Pulaski

Luis Vazquez is your average 21-year-old college student.

He has a passion for sports, loves music, and enjoys spending time on Facebook; he hopes to land his dream job working as a computer technician for the Miami Heat.

Like other students his age, he is struggling to earn his independence. The solution seems simple enough; all he needs is a car.

But things aren’t that simple.

Vazquez was born with a severe type of muscular dystrophy, a hereditary disease that weakens the muscles that move the body. Due to the disease, he has a speech impairment and is confined to a motorized wheelchair.

He currently relies on Miami-Dade Transit Special Transportation Services to get around.

“I have limitations just like everyone else, but I'm capable of doing a lot of things a person without a disability can do,” said Vazquez, a computer information technology major with a 4.0 GPA at MDC’s Kendall Campus.

The modifications necessary for Vazquez to drive include: remote entry, automatic extending ramps, lowered fully-automatic power sliding door, easy-out front seats, kneeling suspension system, non-skid floor covering, automatic wheelchair lock-down, as well as high-tech door, lift and driving controls.

The van will be controlled by a joystick, much like the one used to maneuver his wheelchair.

Modifications are estimated to cost $100,000. They will be paid for by Vocational Rehabilitation—a federal-state program that works with people with disabilities in order to help them prepare for, gain or retain employment. As part of the conditions of the agreement, Vazquez must provide the van, which can be no more than a year old.

He hopes to purchase a 2011 Chrysler Town and Country Limited Edition minivan—MSRP $38,660—that will be able to accommodate his wheelchair and the technology needed for him to drive.

Vazquez’s family provides a wealth of emotional support for him, but they can’t match the financial support needed to purchase the van.

His father is the main source of income for the family. Vazquez’s mother is unable to work because she has to care for him and his 29-year-old sister, Elizabeth, who also suffers from MD.

Vazquez receives Supplemental Security Income benefits, but those funds, he says, barely cover his current expenses.

To raise funds for the van, Vazquez set up a blog to collect contributions toward his goal.

“[Getting the van] will change my life in many ways because I will finally feel free,” Vazquez said.

No one knows that better than Vazquez’s friend, David Mayuri, 22, a business administration major at MDC, who also has MD.

Mayuri owns a heavily-modified vehicle like the one Vazquez is trying to purchase.

It changed his life.

He is now more self-sufficient; Mayuri is able to take classes at both the Kendall and Wolfson campuses, something that was impossible before.

“Luis has been telling me he doesn’t go out much; he’s always stuck at home,” Mayuri said. “I understand, because I used to be like that. Now I go wherever; whenever.”

Paul Edwards, the director of ACCESS at North Campus, who is blind, is thrilled for the advancements.

“There are more and more devices that are making vehicles more accessible,” Edwards said. “We’re looking at the distant future, but a car was unveiled last year that actually drives itself independently. So, conceivably, one of these years I—as a blind person—may be able to own my own car and drive it by myself.”

Vazquez wants people to realize that regardless of the hardships they may face, they must take responsibility of their own destiny.

“In order to have success in life, you have to fight for it,” Vazquez said. “Otherwise, it won’t come along by itself.”

To find out more information on Luis Vazquez, please visit http://makeluisdreamcometrue.blogspot.com/

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