British Columbia

18-year-old UBC student with disability first in Canada to use Swiss driving system

An 18-year-old UBC student is the first in Canada to be licensed to be on the road using the Joysteer electronic driving system that allows people with minimal hand function to control a vehicle with a single joystick.

"I grew up around cars ... my dream has always been to drive"

18-year-old UBC student Shaan Lail who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy will now be able to drive thanks to a state-of-the-art electronic driving system that allows people with minimal hand function to control a vehicle with a joystick. (Bal Brach/CBC News)

An 18-year-old UBC student living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the first person in Canada to drive using a state-of-the-art electronic Swiss driving system that allows people with minimal hand function to control a vehicle with a single joystick.

"For a while there before the disability actually came to be a little more, I started thinking maybe I won't be able to drive," said Shaan Lail.

Lail uses a wheelchair because the disorder causes his muscles to become weaker as he ages.

"I grew up around cars ... so my dream has always been to drive, so when this system came along, I started having a little more hope."

While there are other adaptive driving technologies out there, Lail's instructor, Dean Robertson, says the Joysteer system has fewer limitations.

"The Joysteer system is unique in that it allows you to change the amount of force with the hand control and that means you can accommodate a wider array of clients, as well, you can do technical upgrades over the internet."

  "Any individual who has at least one functional extremity — they can potentially be a driver." 

According to Spinal Cord Injury B.C., unless your disability was related to an ICBC or Worksafe claim, vehicle adaptations are not covered by provincial programs. 

Shaan Lail uses the Joysteer driving system, which allows him to control a vehicle with one or two joysticks. (Bal Brach/CBC News )

"Most people resort to crowdfunding to pay for van conversions," said B.C. SCI manager Jocelyn Maffin.

"Conversions or new vehicles can start at $40,000. Used adapted vans can cost $15,000 or more."

​Because driving isn't considered medically necessary, the Lail family is paying out of pocket to buy Shaan a vehicle with the Joysteer system — at a cost of over $70,000.

"There are a lot of people who are disabled that don't have as many opportunities, so it would be great if the government covered a significant amount of the price," said Shaan Lail.

"Because in all honesty, everyone wants to drive. Any other friend I have in a power wheelchair — their dream is to just drive, to be independent because to them, driving would be everything."

Shaan's mother Vee said the experience of driving has been life changing for her son. 

"It makes him independent," she  said.

"Basically for his life, for working, attending university — he wants the same social life as every other boy does — he wants to date. He wants to go out with his friends." 

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Bal Brach


Bal Brach is an award-winning reporter at CBC News Vancouver. She has worked in television, radio and online news across Canada for more than 15 years. Bal's storytelling skills have earned her two Jack Webster Awards. She is also the recipient of regional and national Radio Television Digital News Association awards. Bal can be reached at or on social media @BalBrach