Like most 24-year-olds, Madison Haley is eager to move forward in her life.

Madi has lived away from home since she was 15, attending the Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital in Massachusetts because of spina bifida until she was 21. Now she lives in a staffed residence with four other women.

Madi has a new job at Wal-Mart working as a door greeter and dressing room attendant. She’s excited to be earning a paycheck. Madi also volunteers at a stable cleaning stalls and filling water buckets for the horses.

But leaving home and getting a job haven’t given her all the independence she wants.

One of her struggles has been transportation. Madi uses a wheelchair, and her options have been limited for getting around. She shares access to a house vehicle with her housemates, making planning ahead for every trip a necessity. Michelle Cutting, Employment Supervisor for Aspire Living & Learning, has been helping her work on a solution as part of the Job Path program. Job Path supports individuals with every aspect of employment, from the initial search to problem-solving on the job.

For the past year Madi has been working toward learning to drive. She studied hard and surprised herself by passing the written learner’s permit exam on the first try. She’s gained confidence in her abilities and says, “Believe in yourself, and you can do whatever you put your mind to.”

Michelle recalls, “Madison and I worked together over the last year using the Massachusetts driver’s manual, online tests and flash cards to prepare for the test.” And she notes that meeting via Zoom during COVID presented some difficulties we can all relate to: “internet connectivity issues, screen sharing craziness, and trying to give concrete examples of driving scenarios with office objects.”

Once pandemic restrictions eased, Michelle and Madi took advantage of the opportunity to drive around town together to look at real world examples of signage, lane markings, and traffic patterns. This helped “solidify Madison’s understanding of some of the signage she had previously struggled with, and she was then able to draw on those examples.” So Michelle wasn’t surprised when Madi passed her test.

Madi is also working with a physical therapist on transferring independently from her wheelchair to a vehicle. She’s planning to start classes with a driving school this summer. She can’t wait. And neither can her best friend—she told Madi “you should come get me as soon as you can drive!”

Most of all Madi is ready to be in control of her day. “I’m hoping driving changes a lot. I’m excited to be like, ‘alright, I’m leaving. I’m going to my mom’s or my dad’s for a few hours, or maybe I’ll come back tomorrow.’ It’s my independence.”

And we can’t wait to hear how the driving journey goes, Madi. We’ll be updating this story. Congratulations and good luck with your classes!


Madison Haley is in the Driver’s Seat