HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Kenneth Gamble and James Ledford, both wheelchair users, each have a passion for the road.
Because of that, both men searched extensively to find a location statewide where they could earn their Commercial Driver’s License as a wheelchair user.
Wallace State’s CDL program and instructor Ben Matanane were ultimately recommended to them through their local vocational counselors and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, and it’s served as the perfect solution for both men.
Gamble is the first wheelchair user to graduate from Wallace State’s CDL program.
“This program has been a God-send for me. This is helping me get into the workforce. I can’t thank Wallace State, Ben Matanane and the state enough for getting together and helping us out,” Gamble said. “I’ve been advocating for this for a couple of years. I hope the opportunity that Wallace State has given us spreads all over the country. Even though we’re in wheelchairs, that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. We want to go to work just like everyone else.”
Gamble is from Wicksburg, located in Houston County and 13 miles from Dothan. Ledford is a Sand Rock native.
Both men began the program earlier this semester, undergoing training each Sunday through Thursday.
“I commend both men for their passion. It’s an honor to be a part of their success. I told them I wouldn’t give up on them if they didn’t give up on me,” Matanane said. “They both have a goal and they’re reaching it. They don’t see any limitations. I hope others can see their example and pursue the same goals.”
Approximately 10 years ago, Gamble suffered a spinal stroke after undergoing major back surgery, forcing him to use a wheelchair. Gamble, who worked previously as a mechanic, became interested in earning a CDL after watching a Facebook video of a fellow wheelchair user earning his credentials.
“I caught up with this gentleman and he earned his CDL before becoming paralyzed. I figured if he could do it, I could as well. I spent three years with my vocational rehab counselor in Dothan looking for this opportunity. She spoke with Craig Rodgers at the Alabama Department of Rehab Services and he led us here,” Gamble said. “This program is truly a blessing. It means more to me than anyone will ever know.”
Ledford became a wheelchair user after surviving a terrifying car accident, which killed his fiancé at the time.
Ledford has always had an interest in the trucking industry – a profession passed down his family tree.
“I come from a long line of truckers. My dad has driven a truck for nearly 50 years and his dad drove a truck for a living. It even goes beyond that. It’s in my family’s blood, and it’s something I’ve always thought I could still do,” Ledford said. “Like Ken, I fought for something like this for a long time and I’m grateful for it. This allows us to go back to work and feel accomplished. I was raised to go out, work hard and to earn what you have. We can learn this like anyone else. We just have to learn a bit different. I’m thankful Wallace State gave us the chance to prove we can do it. You should never be counted out because you’re in a wheelchair.”
The trucks used for training by Gamble and Ledford are equipped with additional hand controls surrounding the steering wheel and connected to the gas and brake pedals.
Both men use a lift, made by Life Essential Lifts, to transition from their wheelchair to the truck’s driver’s seat during their training at Wallace State.
Said Jamie Blackmon, Wallace State’s director for the Center for Career and Workforce Development, “I’m excited and thankful we’re able to offer this and I hope others across the state can take advantage of it. I want this to be a regular avenue we’re able to offer. The success of our CDL program is due in large part to Ben (Matanane) and his commitment and passion for our program,” Blackmon said. “I’m also excited for the futures of our first enrollees into this program.”
Wallace State’s CDL program is a four-week to six-week course, offered in both Hanceville and Oneonta.
For more information about Wallace State’s CDL program, contact Blackmon at 256-352-8461 or Matanane at 256-352-8114. You can also visit www.wallacestate.edu/programs/workforce-development/tfbi/cdl
For more information about Wallace State, visit www.wallacestate.edu.