Gift puts visually impaired Penticton woman in the driver’s seat

Gail Riddall celebrated her 63rd birthday by taking a test drive with Medallion School of Driving

Instructor Bill Sawkins of Medallion School of Driving gives Gail Riddall directions prior to her first time at the controls of a vehicle in the parking lot of a city business. The lesson was actually a birthday present for the local woman who is visually impaired.

Instructor Bill Sawkins of Medallion School of Driving gives Gail Riddall directions prior to her first time at the controls of a vehicle in the parking lot of a city business. The lesson was actually a birthday present for the local woman who is visually impaired.

Crossing another item off her to-do list was an unexpected birthday present for 63-year-old Gail Riddall last Sunday.

After she and good friend Kyle Anderson had lunch instead of going to their original destination, she found herself in the Moduline Industries parking lot where friends and family were waiting.

Blind since birth, Riddall had often talked about wanting to one day drive a car.

Thanks to Anderson, Sunday was that day.

The well-known local musician had earlier arranged with Bill Sawkins of Medallion School of Driving to make his friend’s wish come true.

“Oh no,” were the only words Riddall could say when she realized what was happening after arriving at Moduline.

A short time later she was sitting in the driver’s seat as Sawkins gave her a brief overview of the controls, and then it was off to the races.

With the driving instructor’s voice guiding her, she did several laps of the lot in the bright red Kia Soul to the cheers and applause of the spectators on the sidelines.

When she finally exited the vehicle, the broad smile on her face as she held on to Anderson’s arm summed up her experience.

“I really can’t put this into words, I’m just blown away,” she did manage to say afterwards. “I’ve always wanted to do that for as long as I can remember.

“I’ve been in a car but never where I am creating the movement or I am controlling the movement and touching the pedals. It doesn’t feel anything like I thought it would.”

She was actually surprised at not being more worried about the test drive, and felt if her life circumstances were different she might have been a good driver.

According to Riddall, to her speed is a visual thing which she doesn’t really notice until the vehicle she is in slows down.

“But it was interesting to feel when you touch the gas the car move forward. I could sense that going on, which was really interesting,” she said.

“I used to have a dream — a nightmare — and I knew where it came from because I used to sit on my dad’s knee (in the dream) and I could just barely see over the hood of the car and my brain in the dream goes you can’t drive, you can’t see. So doing that today is really interesting because it’s totally different than I felt in my dream.”

Riddall had nothing but praise for the calmness of her driving instructor, who she credited with “making her day.”

And according to Sawkins, who donated his time and vehicle, his student was actually one of the better ones by doing as she was told.

Anderson first got the idea while watching an episode of the television show MythBusters about a visually impaired person driving by simply following instructions.

“In the five years I’ve known her, Gail has always joked about being the designated driver and ‘Yeah, you drive worse than me,’ and jokes like that,” he said. “So what I just told her when we got here is she always talks about being on a journey, and I said this will help, here are the keys. But really this is a special birthday for a special person.”

 

And it is one birthday present his friend will never forget.