Driving with disability a whole new world
By Steve Wallace
Times Colonist, December 2 2016
The driver in question had lost the use of his legs, but wanted to continue to drive.
Once the vehicle in question was properly equipped, we began the training, but not before I had phoned my mentor Byron Britton at North Shore Driving School in Vancouver.
He gave me several tips, but emphasised one in particular. The setup for hand controls is opposite to normal intuitive behaviour. The hand-control lever is mounted on the left side of the steering wheel, by the signal arm.
The driver must pull the lever in order to accelerate, and push the lever to slow or stop.
This is opposite to the corresponding accelerator action on a regular vehicle and counterintuitive to previous driving behaviour.
Byron said he had never taught anyone who had converted to hand controls from foot controls who had not confused the two actions of accelerating and braking.
It was good advice, and has served me well ever since.
Another first was the opportunity to teach a deaf driver.
My mentor had shown me several hand gestures necessary to be successful at the task.
The chosen vehicle was equipped with additional mirrors, which gave a 360-degree view around the driving school vehicle.
The driver in question seemed to have a heightened awareness in other senses, vision, smell and touch.
I was surprised to learn that deaf drivers have a much lower crash rate than the typical driver.
They value the driving privilege so much that they have a tremendous strength and resolve to maintain an impeccable driving record.
The only thing I had to master, as an instructor, was to stay well ahead of the student with very precise instructions.
I vividly remember my first autistic student.
It took me a long time to get the student to respond to my instruction and direction.
I was a little frustrated with this behavioral riddle.
It wasn’t until the student did a running commentary of what they were about to do that progress was made.
Autistic people are often very structured in their behaviour and are surprisingly safe, despite their specific condition.
There is a full range of autistic behaviour, but in the main they are very ruleoriented and are not risk-takers.
They must feel much more comfortable with their instructor than the average student.
They are rote learners with very clear behaviour patterns.
The last Driving Schools Association of the Americas Convention allotted an entire morning presentation on autistic students by a professional with more letters behind his name than are in my full name.
Many autistic students want to know exactly what will be covered prior to each lesson, in much more detail than the average student.
Their fear of the unknown is magnified.
Voice tone and manner of presentation of material often matters more than the material itself.
More on this topic will appear in a future column.
I remember the first stroke victim who approached me about getting back behind the wheel.
He had lost the use of his left arm. The rules of driving in our province plainly state a candidate for a driver’s licence must have two functioning arms.
The exception is when a doctor has recommended a steeringwheel ball, commonly referred to as a “spinner.”
They are not legal for the average driver, only the physically impaired.
There is quite a knack to teaching longtime drivers to adapt to this type of modification.
It involves breaking down formerly automatic driving actions to step by step, in sequence, singular actions.
There is a first time for everything, and I can’t guess what the next situation will be, but you will be the first to hear about it.