Taking driver’s education, getting your driver’s license and buying your first car (or wrangling permission from parents to borrow theirs) is a rite of passage for many young people. It’s no secret that getting behind the wheel provides a sense of independence and freedom that many people — young and old — desire.
While those feelings are important, access to transportation is crucial for many other reasons, too. It can enable a person to find and sustain employment, socialize, enjoy recreational activities and otherwise live the life they want. Ian McClure, a certified driving rehabilitation specialist at Tidelands Health, believes all people, despite limitations, should be able to learn to drive if they can do so safely.
It’s a belief that motivates McClure in his efforts to help people such as Jacob Bartlett, a teen with cerebral palsy. Bartlett is one of two people with limitations whose efforts to earn a driver’s license are recounted in “The Drive,” an inspiring documentary produced by Tidelands Health.
The good news is that driving safely, even for those with cerebral palsy or other special needs, is entirely possible today thanks to a range of adaptive equipment that can modify a vehicle to accommodate a person’s needs.
The process of determining whether a person is able to drive starts with a two- to three-hour evaluation during which McClure identifies the person’s strengths and limitations. Some of the elements McClure considers includes the individual’s vision, cognitive abilities and muscle strength.
“The evaluation is crucial for figuring out what they’re going to need,” McClure says.
If McClure determines it’s possible for a person to drive safely with some vehicle modifications, he recommends the appropriate customization.
For a person with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects movement, the ability to safely drive a conventional vehicle may be impossible because of the location of the controls. However, a vehicle can be modified with hand controls or other adaptive equipment to address those obstacles.
After recommending what a person will need, one of the highlights of McClure’s job is watching the individual get on the road. He often works with people who’ve been through rehab and for whom returning to driving is a crucial last step in reclaiming their active lives. He also works with young people for whom learning to drive has long been a goal.
“I enjoy seeing them earn their keys or get their keys back,” he says. “That’s the ultimate level of independence.”
For challenges with fine motor skills
Knobs: Modified knobs can be used to make gripping levers around the steering wheel easier or the levers can be moved into a place that is more accessible to the driver
Palm grips: Modified handles that can be gripped by the palms rather than the fingers
Modified-effort steering: Special equipment used to minimize the use of force needed to turn the steering wheel
Right-hand turn signal: The signaling lever can be moved to the right side of the wheel when a person cannot comfortably use his or her left hand
Quad steering device: A splint attached to the steering wheel making it easier to turn
Remote switches: Vehicle controls can be operated and managed from a remote device for individuals unable to access or otherwise operate standard switches
Amputee rings: A ring attached to the steering wheel to make it easier to steer with a hook or prosthetic hand
For challenges with gross motor skills
Steering column extension: The steering column is extended from its typical position to make it reachable
Gear selector: The selector is modified to make it easier for a person to shift the vehicle into different gears
Hand controls: All of the vehicles foot-operated functions can be instead be operated by hand controls
Left-foot accelerators: If a person does not have the use of his or her right leg, the accelerator can be moved
Lifts and ramps: Lifts and ramps can be used to help a person who uses a wheelchair enter and exit from the vehicle
Raised roofs and dropped floors: Vehicle floors and roofs can be modified to create additional space and improve accessibility
Transfer seats: Specially designed seats that help a person enter and exit a vehicle