For people with disabilities, the ability to drive can have a profound impact on their lives. The new found freedom to be able to go to visit family or friends, and to go shopping without having to rely on others cannot be underestimated. The process for taking driving lessons is that the person must be assessed. Depending on the disability the assessment will be undertaken by an Occupational Therapist and or a driving instructor. If the person needing assessment has a neurological condition then they must first be assessed by an OT.
Note: An on-road driving assessment should not be compared to a Road Safety Authority driving test. Both have the objective of promoting safe driving however a driving test has a pass or fail outcome, whereas an assessment has a much wider range of options. One of the main objectives is to support and maintain a person’s mobility through driving, and to explain the options available to them after a disability has been incurred.
As for me, this was done in the NRH and the next step was an in car assessment which I did in Sligo. My instructor, Declan Duignan on Mob. 0876846620, owns his own driving school but his cars have not the necessary adaptions and controls for teaching people with disabilities. The car that he uses while working with the IWA is a specially adapted automatic Ford Focus. It is fitted with hand controls, steering wheel spinners, left and right foot accelerators and other features to make learning to drive as easy as possible. Before the assessment takes place the instructor will explain the type of vehicle been used and the range of adaptions available in their cars. When it is decided what is needed to get one driving then the instructor can provide driving lessons until they either pass their driving test, or until they can drive a vehicle independently. It is possible that you may still be able to operate the standard controls in a manual car but using an automatic may be an easier alternative; this may be necessary to overcome a physical restriction or help if fatigue is an issue. If the standard controls cannot be operated normally then adaptations can be considered to help overcome the difficulty or to make the driving task easier.
Adaptations can modify the operation of the foot pedals, the steering and the secondary controls (indicators, horn, headlamp dip/flash, wipers and washers); the gear lever and the hand brake can also be modified.
If the legs cannot be used for acceleration and braking then hand controls could be considered. If there is a weakness down one side then using the stronger side, either right or left, would be advisable.If the steering cannot be operated with both hands, modification can be made to operate it with one and if the secondary controls cannot be operated without letting go of the steering then these can be operated remotely. For more severe disability the adaptations required become much more complex.
If the person has no cognitive or perceptual disabilities then they can be assessed by the driving instructor. To ensure uniformity instructors must follow a strict criteria and be as specific as possible as to the mistakes the person makes during the assessment. Having developed this baseline, a specific structured training programme is put in place. This will include regular reviews to re-evaluate the learning style and teaching techniques to enable the driver acquire a confident, competent driving standard.
Driver training is tailored to suit an individual’s needs. This includes people with:
• Physical disabilities
• Learning disabilities
• Hard of hearing or deaf
• Language or communication difficulties
• Mental health issues
The Irish wheelchair association has recently introduced a new vehicle to their fleet. It is a Drive from Wheelchair Vehicle. This vehicle features a range of adaptations, controls and assistive technology which makes driving possible for those with a very wide range of physical disabilities.
IWA Driving & Assessment service additionally offers pupils the option of an intense week long driving residential course based in IWA Cuisle centre, Roscommon. There is a course due to commence in the summer of 2017.
This is a list of websites which may assist in the provision of advice to people with disabilities.
And of course, Declan Duignan on Mob. 0876846620, who comes highly recommended due to his professional, punctual, reliable and extremely helpful mannerism!