John Vaughter's Mission: Driving Empowerment

February 15, 2022

Our Stories
John Vaughter, Director of the Driver Rehabilitation Program

John Vaughter, Director of the Driver Rehabilitation Program at the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health’s (CEALH’s) Driver Rehabilitation Program, has recently been honored by the Drive Safe Hampton Roads Organization (DSHR) as the recipient of the 2021 John T. Hanna Lifetime Safety Achievement Award for outstanding service in transportation safety.

John holds a Bachelor of Science from Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA and a Master of Education degree from the University of Pennsylvania at Westchester, PA. He is also a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS), which is a credential earned from The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.

The responsibility of a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist is to plan, develop, coordinate, and implement driver rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities. To earn the certification, a degree is required from a variety of disciplines, along with an internship under the direction of a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist before being eligible to sit for the certification examination.

Early Career

John started his career as an Kinesiotherapist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Coatesville, PA. When he was transferred to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, Richmond, VA he was given the opportunity to work in driver rehabilitation. This transition required his having to take the two-week VA Driver Training Instructor’s course in Long Beach, CA. In 1995, John successfully passed the first certification examination by the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialist.

After retiring from the VA after 30 years, he decided to pursue his passion by starting his own business, Capital Driver Rehabilitation Consultants, LLC.

In this capacity as a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist and provider, he found a synchronistic fit with Riverside’s CEALH. He has worked with the organization for seven years.

What Is Driver Rehabilitation?

At CEALH, John enhances the driving potential for individuals with medical conditions or disabilities. “To lose the ability to drive is nothing short of traumatic for people,” he says.

“The clients we work with usually have challenges caused by aging or physical disabilities. Their medical conditions range from A to Z,” he says. “The individual may have experienced a stroke or head injury or developed Alzheimer’s Disease. There are also some clients who are challenged with birth defects, injuries, or autism. Others may have a heart condition or they may be insulin dependent diabetics. At CEALH, we try to open the window of opportunity for people to drive.”

“To offer just one example, drivers who have lost feeling in their lower extremities and are unable to use conventional foot controls can conceivably regain their motoring independence by having hand controls fitted to their vehicles,” John points out.

“Of course, our clients must first go through a rigorous program with our CEALH Driver Rehabilitation Program and then be evaluated to ensure that they meet the guidelines of the DMV’s Medical Review Services Section.”

John’s Family History

John grew up in Crewe, Virginia in a family of six. “Over the years, I have come to appreciate my family history and realize how much my grandparents and parents achieved,” he says.

“For example, my grandparents were notable for their generation,” he says. “My grandfather on my mother’s side worked in the shipyards in Portsmouth and owned his own home, which was uncommon at that time.”

“On my father’s side, my grandfather owned a 350-acre farm and home adjoining what we children used to call ‘the surrender grounds.’ We often played there,” he says. “I learned later that our ‘playground’ was in Appomattox, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant to effectively end the American Civil War in April 1865.”

“As I get older, I am looking into my family history to learn more about what happened around that time and determine how the 350 acres along with an antebellum house came into my grandparents’ possession, when so many other families were trapped in the poverty of the sharecropping economy,” he says.

Education Was Everything

John’s family valued education and stressed its importance throughout his childhood. In his early years, the educational system was highly segregated, and it was a struggle for Black individuals to gain a proper education.

John’s mother, for example, wanted to be trained in nursing, but there were few schools in Virginia that offered a BSN in nursing for people of color.

Her determination was so strong, however, that each January, she would leave Crewe for several months and head north to study nursing at the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City. She graduated from Columbia in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Master’s in Nursing Education (MSN), respectively.

Formative Years

As a child, John attended a “Rosenwald School.” Although he was unaware of the historical significance of the school in his youth, he learned later that the Rosenwald Schools movement was founded by Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist, and president of Sears Roebuck.

The Rosenwald schools were established for African American children across the South, and the effort has been called the most important initiative to advance black education in the early 20th century.

The architecture and programming of the schools made them a focal point of community identity and aspirations. By 1928, Rosenwald Schools served one-third of the South’s rural Black school children and teachers.

“While the schools may have been considered advanced for their time, when I attended, they were two-room schools with no plumbing or heat. The coal allotment would only last a brief time, and us older boys were tasked with finding and chopping the wood for the potbelly stove. We lost a lot of lesson time, but we still got a good education,” says John. “Most of the people I know who attended school with me are now physicians, lawyers, educators, technicians, and other degreed professionals.” Efforts are being made today to locate and preserve all the former Rosenwald Schools.

“In addition to my formal schooling, my parents were extremely strict with us about keeping up—and ahead of—our studies. When my mother was going to college, she would appoint her neighborhood friend to keep after my siblings and me to ensure we did our homework. Her friend struck terror in our hearts because she insisted on perfection with our lessons. But we are grateful to her today.”

“It must have paid off, because today, we are all college educated. My oldest sister holds a PHD, my second sister has a BSN and MSN, I hold a BS and a Master’s in Education, and my brother also holds a BS degree in Education,” says John.

Leaving a Legacy

When asked what he sees as his life’s mission, John says: “I want to leave a legacy of having helped people. Someone once suggested that my work is my ‘ministry.’ I think they were right, because in this career, along with technical skills, you must have compassion. You must listen. And you need have a desire to help others who have lost their way because of a medical condition.”

“I want to give people empowerment, mobility, and a reason to want to live a full life,” he adds.

John has passed along this ethic to his son, Justin Vaughter, who is also a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) with a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Sports Management from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.


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