Friday, November 14, 2003
A new state-of-the-art van to train severely disabled drivers could make relearning the skill more convenient for those on the Prairies.
Edmonton's Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital has acquired a high-tech van that can better assess the extent of a driver's disability so a training program can be individually customized.
The program started 35 years ago and has since assessed thousands who've suffered strokes, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and amputations.
But this new van will also enable people with limited movement and strength in their upper extremities, such as those with multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia, to be assessed and trained in Edmonton, rather than having to travel to Vancouver or Toronto.
The new van, which cost $189,000 and was provided by the Alberta Lottery Fund, has all the latest bells and whistles, said driving instructor Cyril Mitra.
One of them is a joystick that need only be pushed slightly forward to apply the brakes, backward to hit the gas, left or right to turn the wheels.
A person with the use of only one arm could do it, said Mr. Mitra.
Another option is a computer touchpad that enables a driver to start the engine, turn on the lights or sound the horn, with just the use of a hand or elbow.
Quadriplegic Margaret Conquest, 28, said learning how to drive a customized van enabled her to go to university and get a job as a rehabilitation counsellor.
"It just makes an incredible difference between being dependent on other people and being absolutely independent," she said.
Darrell Paulovich, 31, also a quadriplegic, said it felt good to get back behind the steering wheel last September — something he hadn't done since being injured in an industrial accident in 1997.
"I used to be a truck driver, so I missed driving," said Mr. Paulovich, who's already made a couple of six-hour trips.
His new van has hand controls that operate the brakes and gas, and is also modified to accommodate the fact that he cannot use his fingers.
Mr. Paulovich turns the steering wheel with a "tripod spinner" — three posts into which he fits his hand so he can move the wheel without grasping it.
"It's great to be back driving again. To be back out on the road and
seeing the country. Now I'll be able to go to places, whereas I couldn't
before because I always had to rely on somebody."
Copyright © 2003, Canadian Press