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The Road to Independence: Adaptive Driving Program for People with Disabilities

When living with a disability, gaining independence after injury, illness, or a chronic condition is an important component of living a full life. Having the ability to drive a vehicle can increase your confidence and give you more freedom.


 

A joint program of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, the Center for Assistive Technology (CAT) is a leader and innovator in the assistive technology field.

Visit the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s website to learn more about services offered at the Center for Assistive Technology, or call 412-864-3068 for more information about the Adaptive Driving Program.

The Adaptive Driving Program at CAT was created 18 years ago to help people with disabilities gain their independence through driving. Amy Lane, an occupational therapist, certified driver rehabilitation specialist, and clinical instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, was instrumental in establishing this program, which she now manages and operates. The program is open to anyone who is old enough to drive and has a valid driver’s license or permit.

Conditions that people interested in the Adaptive Driving Program may have include:

  • Amputation
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cognitive changes
  • Congenital conditions, such as dwarfism
  • Developmental or behavioral conditions
  • Diabetes causing neuropathy in the feet
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Orthopaedic conditions
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injury

These people may be referred to the Adaptive Driving Program from rehabilitation clinics and hospitals, where they undergo a comprehensive two-part evaluation.

The first part of this evaluation involves a clinical assessment in which Lane administers visual, perceptual, cognitive and motor skills testing, as well as testing individuals’ knowledge of traffic safety laws and road signs.

If an individual passes this portion, he or she moves to the second part of the evaluation: the on-road driving assessment.

A sedan is used for the on-road portion, and depending on the individual’s needs, it can be outfitted with adaptive equipment such as pedal extensions, a left foot accelerator, steering devices, various hand controls, cushions, torso support, and mirrors. For safety reasons, Lane has access to an instructor’s brake at all times, and a remote to control accessories such as turn signals, windshield wipers, and headlights.

UPMC Centers for Rehab Services (CRS), which provides physical, occupational, and speech therapy at more than 70 outpatient locations throughout western Pennsylvania, often triages interested parties who identify driving as a goal by administering the clinical assessment. If they do well on the assessment at CRS, they can be referred to the Adaptive Driving Program for the on-road portion.

“The clinical assessment is an excellent tool to detect the presence of difficulties that might impair safe driving, but the on-road evaluation is the ideal method to observe if someone has the ability to drive or not,” Lane says.

“I determine if any impairments identified on the clinical assessment affect their fitness to drive, and whether or not they have the core skills to drive. The on-road portion is the gold standard for a driving assessment.”

During the driving assessment, there is a steady progression from contained environments, such as a parking lot, to a park setting, to a neighborhood, on to secondary roads with more traffic and higher speed limits, and finally on to four-lane city and highway roads.

Upon completion of the comprehensive evaluation, individuals may require additional training. This may be necessary to develop basic driving skills, learn compensatory strategies, learn how to use adaptive driving equipment, or even for assistance in completing the requirements for driver’s licensing. The Adaptive Driving Program provides assistance with any of these driving skill interventions.

“Being able to drive is the icing on the cake for these folks’ entire rehabilitation process,” says Lane. “They can dress themselves, walk on their own, and climb stairs but having the ability to drive again gives them a whole other level of freedom. I love my job because I get to help people learn to drive or return to it, thereby regaining independence in their community.”

Visit the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s website to learn more about services offered at the Center for Assistive Technology, or call 412-864-3068 for more information about the Adaptive Driving Program.


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