“It’s absolute freedom,” Rahul Ray says about the hand controls installed in his car with funding through the Neil Squire Society’s Technology@Work program.
Rahul was a partner at an environmental consulting firm ten years ago when he woke up with his right calf numb. A high level soccer player for many years, at first it seemed like it might just be a pinched nerve. But a few months later, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (new window) (MS).
“I was diagnosed almost to the day I became a partner at my firm. I asked what I am I supposed to do with this MS thing? Can I keep on working? After some research, I decided to stick with it, and became a leader and eventual owner of my company.”
Rahul has maintained his positive approach to life, but has been forced to find solutions to undertake his work. His environmental planning role involves working with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities across western Canada — a lot of driving for Rahul, who is based in Victoria. Over the past few years, his MS, which affects his mobility in the lower body, made it increasingly difficult for him to drive a traditional vehicle.
“It was becoming a barrier for me,” he says. “A physical one, but also a mental one where I was dreading travel, something I’ve always loved to do. In my whole life, I have never said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ I just wanted to find out if there was another way to drive.”
Fortunately, he did find another way — hand controls. Instead of using his feet to control acceleration and braking, with a modified set-up in his vehicle, he can drive using his hands. Rahul signed up for driver training at Access Driver Rehabilitation (new window) and found quick results.
“I went to driving school all over again. I’ve been driving cars and motorcycles for probably 25 years, but it’s different with hand controls,” he says. “Not difficult, just different.” After two weekend days of training with Dean, from Access, “on the Monday morning I retook my driving test using the modified car I learned on. I passed with flying colours and high-fived the 16-year-old drivers who were also taking their driving test,” he says with a laugh.
“Driving with hand controls is different than driving with your feet, but six months later, it’s like I’ve been driving with hand controls for all of my 25 years of driving.”
It was during his training at Access Driver Rehabilitation that he was referred to the Technology@Work program to fund his training and the equipment for his work vehicle.
“[The Neil Squire Society] were just absolutely amazing. They made the whole process easy. For most people that’ll be joining the program, or trying to seek funding, they’re going to be nervous, because it’s something new for them. Katrina was fantastic. All of the staff I met have been amazing. They made the process really easy and very comfortable. Change is hard, but working with Neil Squire helped smooth the transition,” he explains.
It couldn’t come at a better time for Rahul, either. Looking for a change in his working career, he left the firm that he helped build. “Through mergers and acquisitions, the place I worked grew from 10 people to 500 to 26,000 people”. Rahul has opened his own company, Springboard Strategies Ltd. focused on environmental planning as well as career development for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, including those facing some form of disability. His goal is to help people find their career passion to live the best life they can. Now, as a board member of the MS Society (new window) on Vancouver Island, he wants to spread the word about the Technology@Work program and how it dramatically improved his life.
“I can jump in my car and go absolutely anywhere I want,” he says. “I don’t have to think twice about saying, ‘yeah, I’ll be at that meeting’ or ‘hey, I’ll come see you guys in the community.’ It’s not even a consideration anymore. Before it was, ‘I’m not sure, can we do it by teleconference, maybe by email.”
Being able to continue to drive also allows the freedom to go camping or take road trips with his wife Cathy, and his little ones, Daniel, Lily, and Maya. “Having MS has made life different than I envisioned, but I dare say richer and more rewarding. I had to retire from soccer, but it turns out I’m a pretty good coach.”
Rahul was recently featured in a video about the Technology@Work program