For many disabled people, driving sports cars or riding motorbikes can seem like a distant dream in a world designed for the able-bodied. However, recent changes in technology and ground-breaking work from a number of charities have meant that more and more disabled people are now able to get behind the wheel than ever before. Depending on the type of disability, a lot of people have been incorrectly told that they will never be able to drive, and many more just assume that the world of motorsports is well beyond their physical capacity.
In December 2007 Mark Ormrod became the UK’s first triple amputee from the conflict in Afghanistan, after stepping on an improvised explosive device. Losing both his legs and his right arm, Mark was certain that he would never be able to drive again but in June 2014 he arrived at Silverstone with a UK-based charity called The Bike Experience and rode a motorbike for the first time since his accident.
The Bike Experience was founded in 2011 by Talan Skeels-Piggins who was himself paralysed from the chest down in a motorbike accident in 2003. The aim of the company is to offer free driving experiences to disabled people and empower then with the passion and emotions that riding a motorbike can bring. Talan Skeels-Piggins stated to the BBC in 2011 that:
"Learning to ride again changes people's lives, it shows them that what they thought was impossible is possible. It is the realisation of a dream for them. When you are paralysed, that wheelchair becomes a prison you cannot escape from, but biking gives you total fulfilment and exhilaration. It allows people to grow in confidence and improves their strength and balance. It is good for physical as well as mental well-being."
The Bike Experience run their main teaching sessions and events at the legendary Silverstone Circuit. Steeped in history as the home of UK motorsports and the host of the first ever F1 World Championship, it’s the perfect ceremonial arena for someone to experience the thrill of being behind the wheel of a motorbike or sports car. Silverstone also offers a number of other driving experiences and state that they can accommodate for most circumstances depending on each individual situation. So even if someone is not quite ready to put their foot to the floor on their own, Silverstone has a range of passenger driving experiences that can make you feel what it is really like for Vettel, Hamilton and Co. to fly around the world famous race track at outrageous speeds.
Silverstone is not the only company that provides driving opportunities for the disabled. Companies like the British Motor Sports Association for the Disabled, formed in 1987, have put thousands of people with varying disabilities into racing, rallying and karting competitions. Ex-Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi also made a full time return to motorsports this year after losing both his legs in a crash in 2001. The two-time Paralympic gold medalist has been racing on and off since 2004, even taking control of a specially-modified F1 car for BMW Sauber in November 2006.
If you’re disabled and thinking about trying driving for the first time or returning to driving after an accident then contact the BMSAD, Silverstone or The Bike Experience for more information. iCan Experiences also offers a range of driving packages from blind driving to high speed rides in a Lamborghini Gallardo, so there are plenty opportunities out there and these companies are tried and tested at catering a variety of experiences to your specific individual needs.