Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador woman racing against time for wheelchair-accessible vehicle

Rose Coates's vehicle can't accommodate her granddaughter Sophia's wheelchair, which makes it difficult to get around Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Rose Coates has until Feb. 1 to raise funds for van that accommodates her granddaughter's wheelchair

Rose Coates says constantly lifting her granddaughter's wheelchair into and out of her vehicle is physically exhausting. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Rose Coates and her six-year-old granddaughter, Sophia, love spending time together, whether it's going to the park, visiting friends or just running errands around town.

But over time, even casual outings in their hometown of Happy Valley-Goose Bay have become difficult.

"The first thing I have to do is put her in the car first, so I can get her seatbelt into her booster seat. [Next] put my backseat down, then from the rear, obviously, put the wheelchair in," Coates said.

Sophia has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which limits mobility of her arms and legs, requiring her to use a wheelchair to get around.

Sophia has a form of cerebral palsy that severely limits mobility in her arms and legs, requiring her to wear leg braces and often use a wheelchair to get around. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Unfortunately, Coates's current SUV isn't wheelchair-accessible, so getting Sophia and her wheelchair into and out of the vehicle is a physically demanding and time-consuming task.

"I find very hard because it's not easy taking her places and going to activities and stuff like all the other kids can do," she said.

It's not easy taking her places and going to activities.- Rose Coates

Sophia also has a developmental delay and is non-verbal. However, she uses some gestures and sounds to communicate how she's feeling.

Rose, who is Sophia's legal guardian, says her granddaughter can get upset when she's being moved from her wheelchair to the car seat and back again. Despite this, Sophia gets a great deal of enjoyment when they go for drives and attend events in the community.

"She loves concerts and everything. Music is her thing," Coates said.

Coates's mother owns a van that can accommodate the wheelchair in a standing position, but still requires them to move Sophia into a car seat.

And as Sophia continues to grow, Coates has come to terms with the impact all the lifting, jostling and readjusting has on her own physical health.

It's wear and tear on my back and my shoulders.- Rose Coates

"I do depend on my mom quite a bit, but other than that, I gotta do what I gotta do," she said.

"It's wear and tear on my back and my shoulders and stuff."

Accessible vehicle funding comes with a deadline 

Coates and Sophia recently received some good news in the form of a grant from the provincial government to help with the purchase of a fully wheelchair-accessible van.

She's been in contact with a company in Nova Scotia for a particular model that is retrofitted with a ramp, a wider side door and a lowered floor to give more overhead clearance, all of which would allow Sophia to remain in her wheelchair the whole time.

Or, as Coates puts it: "That one is perfect."

Mobility right now is a big issue.- Rose Coates

"It's just going to make life so much easier for her because mobility right now is a big issue. And now with winter coming on, it's going to be worse again."

However, the grant covers less than half of the vehicle's $57,000 price tag, meaning Coates has to raise more than $30,000 before the funding's Feb. 1 expiry date.

"I'm just hoping for the best. I got a long way to go," she said.

A long way, to be sure, although she's already making some progress. Coates has sent out letters to local businesses, created a GoFundMe page and received some private donations from people in the community.

Sophia Coates enjoys going for rides in her grandmother's car, but the process of being lifted into and out of the vehicle can be stressful. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

She's raised about $8,000 so far, leaving her with a $20,000 fundraising hill to climb in the coming months.

"I'm just hoping and praying when the time comes we're going to have enough money raised," she said. 

"It's something desperately that she needs, you know, and make everybody's life so much easier."

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About the Author

Jonny Hodder is a journalist with CBC Radio based in St. John's.

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