Elkhart family hopes to win handicap-accessible van for daughter

Janel Ruvalcaba is severely disabled and only has control over her right arm. Her family doesn't have a wheelchair-accessible van for Janel, but they hope to win one in a contest. 

Posted on April 12, 2014 at 12:20 p.m.

Janel Ruvalcaba, 16, is the center of her family's world.

But when it's time for them to go somewhere together, the close-knit family faces a challenge.

Janel has cerebral palsy, a disability that severely limits her movement, and her family doesn't have a handicap-accessible vehicle.

So when Janel has to leave the house, her family reclines one of the seats in their vehicle as far as possible and lays Janel down on it. Then, someone has to sit next to her and make sure she doesn't roll out of the seat.

The family is hoping to win a handicap-accessible van through a contest sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association

Janel's teacher, home educator Mary Conner, nominated Janel for the contest, which runs until May 9. 

It's a nationwide contest and last year, 1,225 people entered. Janel could win if she gets into the top 10 percent of nominees through people's votes.

Conner, who first met Janel when she was her teacher at Hawthorne Elementary, said she nominated the Ruvalcabas because "they are a really special family."

Conner teaches Janel at home through the winter months, because Janel can't be outside when the temperature dips below 35 degrees.

She's gotten to know Janel and said that even though the teen can't speak clearly, Conner knows what she's trying to say.

"She's very aware of her surroundings and what's going on," Conner said. "She understands what you ask her to do — but her body prevents her from doing it most of the time."

In addition to cerebral palsy, Janel has Rett's syndrome, a feeding tube, a shunt that drains fluid from her brain, seizures and spasticity.

"She depends on us 100 percent," her father, Sergio Ruvalcaba, said.

He is excited about the prospect of getting Janel a handicap-accessible van through the contest. 

Those types of vehicles are very expensive, he said, and he is working hard just to provide for the family. Lilia Gonzalez, Janel's mother, doesn't work because she is Janel's primary caregiver. 

How to help:

You can vote for Janel in the online contest by visiting mobilityawarenessmonth.com and searching for "Janel Ruvalcaba" under the Local Heroes section. 

People may vote once every 24 hours until May 9.


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