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Vehicle donation ends OSU student's fight for transportation

Allie Williams

Allie Williams portrait in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Thursday, November 17 2016.

Allie Williams has fought for fair and equal transportation rights to accommodate her disability all semester. For the music education freshman, the journey has been long and sometimes lonely.

Recently, a donor, whose mother died in November, reached out to Williams to offer his mother’s van. The man, who wished to remain anonymous, found Williams through the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Tulsa. The organization can’t accept vehicles but gave the man Williams’ contact information instead.

Williams, 35, said she used to call the organization to coordinate rides, so when the donor called, the MDA told him Williams' story.

“I cried a lot, and I thanked the man a lot,” she said. “I feel relieved and cautiously optimistic.”

The van is older and will likely need repairs, such as replacing a missing screw in the lift, she said. But the $800 Williams raised through her crowdfunding site will go toward repairs, insurance and a car tag. She will also have to pay about $600 to convert her wheelchair so it will automatically lock into the floor.

In November, the Department of Rehabilitation Services in Stillwater granted Williams up to $25,000 to renovate a van to be handicap accessible as long as she could buy a vehicle. DRS requires used vans be fewer than 5 years old and have fewer than 30,000 miles. Some can go for more than $12,000.

Williams said when the van is in her name, she will also reach out to DRS to help pay for repairs and her wheelchair conversion. But financially, the donation has lessened the burden, she said.

“Even if it doesn’t work right away, it's still a huge weight lifted off me of having to find a vehicle, buy a vehicle, convert a vehicle, convert my wheelchair, wait six to nine weeks for the vehicle to be converted and returned to me,” Williams said.

Williams is the first student with spinal muscular atrophy to be admitted to the Oklahoma State University Department of Music. SMA is a debilitating disease that affects the spinal nerves and lungs. It can rob people of the ability to walk, talk and breathe without help. Most people lose the function to walk and don’t live past 30.

Williams and Donna Waldrop, Williams' caregiver, moved from Enid to Stillwater in August. Neither knew at the time their house was about 3 miles outside the fixed route for OSU Community Transit to be able to pick Williams up.  

Williams has also hit roadblocks participating in extracurriculars and achieving a vocal music education degree. The restrictions of wheelchair-accessible transportation in Stillwater have left her scrambling to find a way to campus. 

In October, the music department began setting up rides for Williams for school-mandated recitals on weekends and for classes that take place after business hours on weeknights. A fellow student rents a handicap-accessible van from OSU Parking and Transportation Services to take Williams to and from her home to music functions.

However, the music department created the agreement and is paying for transportation, which ends Aug. 1, 2017. The department is also paying the student at least minimum wage, said Howard Potter, head of the OSU music department. Since October, the department has spent $379.66 on the vehicle to transport Williams and $30 in driver costs, according to OSU Communications.

Potter said he is unsure of the cost to the department and will not have definite figures until spring. Some of the cost might be deferred to grants, Potter said.

Waldrop said the arrangement still isn’t ideal. Sometimes, Williams has to wait at school for hours until her after-school recital is over to be taken home because she relies on the student driver, Waldrop said.

And until December, when Williams will get her van, she will rely on public transportation, such as First Capital Trolley in Guthrie, which runs Monday-Friday from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. in Payne County and Saturday from noon-2 p.m., for which there is a waiting list.

Before October, Williams was forced to leave class early and to skip weekend recitals if she couldn’t find a ride from friends or family.

Sometimes, a friend had to physically pick Williams up to put her in his truck and then put her wheelchair in the bed to get her to concerts, Waldrop said.

If Williams needs to go to the doctor, she has to wait three days to arrange a public transportation ride or be picked up by an ambulance to go to the emergency room, she said.

“For her social stuff, she’ll be able to go to after-concert parties and do the social stuff that has to do with school that she has given up because she can’t get home,” Waldrop said. “So it's going to increase her social activity a lot, too, and that makes me happy. Any time she has a more full life, I’m doing my job better.” 

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