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Ilma Lever BEM

Throughout her life, Ilma Lever was a role model and active campaigner for people with a disability.

Honour Roll

Ilma Lever was born in 1912 and contracted polio one year later. She was the first disabled person to obtain a Driver's Licence in Victoria, and established the Disabled Motorists Association (Victoria). She was an active member of the Northern Polio Support group from its inception. ParaQuad Victoria recognised Ilma's contribution by making her a Life Member.

She is a person who has shaped Victoria for people with disabilities. Ilma told her story this way: "I had always been keen to drive, as my way of life became more difficult, I began trying to find a way this could be achieved. I spent some months phoning various firms trying to find controls that I could use, the only one available was in New South Wales, this was vacuum operated and very expensive.

I finally applied for driving lessons with a Driving School, when the instructor arrived he looked at me, asked what I could do, I said I thought I could use my right foot. He was a brave man, he allowed me to sit behind the wheel and steer while he operated the clutch and brake, and took me into the Motor Registration Branch where the Constable in charge, Sargent Seger came out to speak to me and asked did I really want to drive and told me to get in touch with Sid Ross of New Zealand who had designed a control which would be great for me.

My Father was somewhat shocked, but after some thought decided he could buy a small car and we wrote to Sid Ross. His reply was he needed to fit three cars to enable him to pay his expenses to come to Melbourne.

Father was friendly with Norm Spencer, who at Radio 3DB conducted an afternoon program. The story was told on air and we finished up with six requests for car fittings. Father bought a beautiful tiny Morris Minor, and I waited for six months for Sid to fit my car and local ones in our yard. Sid asked me to be his Agent, this I refused because I felt I could not talk to people, but both Sid and Dad decided I could do it, I decided to try and became his unpaid Agent for about 25 years.

When Sid died I continued for his wife until she became ill. At that time there were other controls available and driving for Disabled was the normal thing. The newer controls are replicas of the original Ross. I learned to drive quickly, obtained my license, then in my job as Agent I had to get publicity.

With Dad urging me on I made an appointment with the RACV to show them the controls. I had to drive three engineers around Melbourne, which I did in fear and trembling. They were very impressed. After a short time I was asked to show the control to 'Roots', the distributors of the Hillman car.

After a year or so I felt it would be great to have a club, where we could have driving competitions etc. I was concerned that other motoring clubs would be against us. I asked for a meeting with RACV again and got the President's support. Noel Bergere, the solicitor who also had polio, was very helpful and told me to contact as many disabled people as I could, then call a public meeting and take it from there. We did and the Disabled Motorists Association (Victoria) was formed."