The world of hand control driving technology for persons with
disabilities is not a widely known area of accessibility. Three years ago, when I transitioned to hand controls, I embarked on a new learning curve that I had little familiarity with. I reached out to my former teacher, Beth Rolland, an occupational therapist, driver rehabilitation specialist, and tri-athlete at Kessler Institute
for Rehabilitation, to gather advice for people who may be thinking of taking this step.
First, she notes that the transitioning process is emotionally loaded. “For some patients, it is enabling if they have never been mobile or able to drive. For other patients who had been able to drive with their feet, it is experienced as a loss, and it takes time mourn and accept it.” Second, it is critical to bring this topic up in your health planning with your doctor if you have a progressive medical condition, sooner rather than later Rolland notes, “It is important to consider the transition to hand control before progressive symptoms develop – diabetic neuropathy, MS, post-polio syndrome, age related mobility impairment. People often continue to drive unsafely because they don’t know that there are other options.”
Rolland, currently a member of the board of directors of ADED, also notes that hand control technology options are wide ranging. Push/pull hand controls are most common, but now technology such as the Menox system is available for patients who don’t have upper extremity strength. In the initial evaluation with a patient, a driving rehabilitation specialist will his or her medical diagnosis and design an adaptation to the person's specific needs and limits. Rolland explains that not every driving specialist will have a
test car adapted with all the technology options needed.
Beth skillfully guided me to find an adaptation that worked with my limitations. We both agreed on the need for increased awareness in the medical community for assisting patients with this transition.
She encourages patients and families to reach out to websites such as Drive Master, or ADED and do your research beforehand. These organizations have a wealth of resources, pictures of adapted cars, and experts available to answer questions.
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