Program puts wheels in motion
May 8, 2012
AHS supports initiative to help disabled drive again
Driving a motor vehicle is something most people take for granted. But not Bharath Samrat. The Calgary man calls it “a dream come true.”
Samrat has femoral dysplasia, a condition which means he never developed knee joints. Driving had never been an option because, at 3-ft. 7-in., his feet couldn’t reach the gas or brakes.
“Calgary’s a city where you need to drive to get around,” says the 27-year-old engineer. “I can’t reach the pedals, which has made driving impossible.”
All that changed last December thanks to the Adapted Driver Training Program, a new initiative aimed at improving access to training for people with physical disabilities who require hand controls while driving. The program – operated by the Alberta Motor Association and supported by Alberta Health Services (AHS) – offers in-class and one-on-one, on-road training teaching the basics of operating adaptive equipment for people with a variety of conditions, including spinal cord injuries, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, polio and amputations.
(For Edmonton residents, a similar on-site program is operated at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.)
“Depending on their ability, the driver training sessions are specially tailored to meet the unique needs of each client,” says Alexander Asante, program manager with AHS Community Accessible Rehabilitation.
The course lasts up to six hours, offered in two-hour instalments, and teaches clients the basics of operating adaptive equipment. A full driving course, including classroom, is also available for those individuals without any previous driving experience.
The on-road lessons use a specialized Nissan Altima funded by the Alberta Spinal Cord Injury Initiative. The car is equipped with hand controls, wheel spinner, cross-over signal arm and left foot accelerator.
“This program gives clients access to adapted driver training in their area,” says Vivian Yue, an AHS occupational therapist and certified driver rehabilitation specialist. “This program helps clients get back to their everyday life; back to work and back to school.”
Clients who meet the referral criteria can be referred by a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or a physician.
To be eligible for a direct referral, clients must:
- Be able to get in and out of the car by themselves.
- Have no cognitive impairment.
- Have enough hand function and strength to operate the hand controls.
- Have no visual field impairment.
“There are many clients who are in a ‘grey zone,’ where they don’t quite meet one of the criteria; for those clients we provide assessment and treatment free of charge at AHS’s Community Accessible Rehabilitation Pre-Driving Assessment Service, to determine their eligibility,” Yue says.
In some cases, AMA can travel around southern Alberta locations to provide the training, depending on availability of the vehicle and trainer.
“This makes a huge difference. Now I can go anytime anywhere, without relying on friends for rides or public transit,” Samrat says.
“I’m very happy with the program.”