“Having a car makes you a lot more independent”, says Denise Strauß. Back in 2017, Denise, who is now 25, had to do without her car for three months. This was a huge adjustment for the human resources administrator, and it also posed a major challenge. “Heading home at 4 pm was a big headache for me”, she recalls. “In these kinds of situations, you really notice how dependent you are on a vehicle.”
Denise Strauß was born with no arms and only one leg. Her condition is a congenital genetic disorder known as dysmelia. But Denise manages very well with all day-to-day activities, including driving, working and shopping – all as a matter of course and with an amazingly cheerful attitude. When Denise was 11, she played “Kathrin” in the two-part film “Contergan”, which was broadcast on German television. She was credited in the film as Denise Marko (Marko is her maiden name). She actually originally wanted to be an actress, but after finishing secondary school, she decided to first complete a training programme that offered good job prospects.
Her living environment and the things she needs to use are all perfectly tailored to her requirements. At work and at home in the kitchen, she uses a table-height chair that was manufactured especially for her. “It’s more comfortable”, she says, “and actually I do almost everything with my foot.” It’s only when she drives that she does absolutely nothing with her foot – except operate the accelerator and brake pedals, as one would expect. Denise drives a red VW Golf equipped with a joystick located under her right arm. She uses the PARAVAN Space Drive system to steer her vehicle. The joystick automatically moves into the right position after her seatbelt has been fastened. “That’s the best and most comfortable option for me”, she explains. The control panel next to the joystick gives her direct access to the most important vehicle systems, such as the stop-start unit and the heat and air conditioning systems. The buttons for gear switching and various secondary systems, such as the automatic sun visor, are located on the side of the driver’s door. A loading system stows her wheelchair behind her when she’s ready to drive.
Her car is also equipped with a beeper that allows her to use defined input codes to easily switch on the high beam or activate the turn signals. PARAVAN technicians provided her with perfect advice for outfitting her car. “I always wanted the horn as the ‘1’ setting”, she recalls. That would have been a disaster. The specialists told her that the high beam should be “1” and the turn signals should be “2” and “3” - i.e. just as “2” is on the left and “3” is on the right in “23”. “I’ll never forget that”, says Denise.
Denise Strauß has been driving her car since 2011. She always knew she would become a driver: “One day, I was going to drive – and that was it. I just imagined at some point that I would drive a car, and now I do.” Indeed, Denise copes well with many of the challenges of day-to-day life. But the process wasn’t always that simple. It was Denise’s father who found out about PARAVAN. Denise visited the mobility centre in Aichelau for the first time when she was 16. “Getting all the necessary documents together was a complicated process”, she says. Denise went on to get her driving licence when she was 17, although at that time she still needed to have someone in the car when she drove. After passing a medical-psychological evaluation (MPU), she was issued special approval to drive alone and began driving from her home to school and back on her own.
Today, eight years later, she has nearly 100,000 kilometres of driving under her belt. Driving for two or two-and-a-half hours at a time is no problem for Denise, as she regularly takes trips to the Allgäu region or to friends in Munich on the spur of the moment. “That can be a little tiring”, she says. “But all this started when I was 18, and when you’re that age, you simply want to drive everywhere on your own.” These days, however, she’s sometimes happy to take the passenger seat and let her husband do the driving. “Still, if I really want to go somewhere, then I simply drive there”, she explains. “I don’t mind the traffic in cities either, and parking with the joystick is a breeze.”
After more than eight years with her first car, Denise is now ready for a new one, and she’s currently trying to decide which model she wants to buy. “I’ve had so many decisions to make over the last two years”, she says. She doesn’t want to make any major changes in terms of the equipment in the vehicle, even though she knows there are a lot of new options available now. “The fact is that I can’t imagine what I would want to change”, she explains. “I have absolutely no problems with what I’ve got now.”