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  • Learning to Drive as a Disabled Person So, you've checked you're allowed to drive and you've found out about any adaptations you might need to help you to drive more easily. Now, it's time to actually learn to drive! Excited? I spoke to Chris Kingsley, a specialist driving instructor from Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People about his career, and about the extra challenges that disabled people can face when learning to drive. Chris is an ADI lead at QEF Mobility Services and is based on Carshalton. I started by asking him what made him interested in teaching disabled people to drive. I enjoy being a driving instructor, for that reason I’ve always attended training courses to improve my skills. When I went to QEF for the three day course to teach people with disabilities I was amazed at how little I knew and how the training fitted nicely with the teaching I was already doing. I became keen to learn more. Luckily for me I lived close enough to offer to take on some of their pupils. What challenges do you think disabled learner drivers face that non disabled learners do not? Many driving instructors fear disability and the challenges can be numerous for example: For some, even deafness seems an impossible and specialist task, for others they can be a little gung ho and not consider the reason their pupil is deaf and any other impairment that might be associated with deafness so they might not ask the right questions. Because driving instructors who have had some training are often far apart there can be implications with travelling time for the instructor which they often pass onto the pupil in terms of cost. The person with a disability also needs to prepare for their first driving lesson better as they may need an assessment to find out which controls they need. Finding a driving instructor with adaptations can be difficult and if anything more than hand controls or a left foot accelerator is needed then tuition may need a weekly trip to a mobility centre or learning from their own vehicle which has cost implications. Cognitive difficulties may require particular teaching techniques which is not part of the statutory training for becoming a driving instructor. There are many different types of disability and impairment. How does your training equip you to work with people who could have any condition from deafness to paralysis? I’m extremely lucky at QEF, we have a team of occupational therapists and very experienced driving instructors to ask questions of, we hold regular meetings to review our work and consider our pupils' needs, there are opportunities for someone to sit in on a driving lesson and the progress of pupils is monitored to make sure people continue learning. Also, I have attended and continue to attend various training courses and meet people with a range of disabilities on a daily basis. What do you enjoy about your job? I enjoy the variety of my job. Mostly, I am a driving assessor and we are looking to enable someone to drive either for the first time or to return to driving after an illness or trauma. Driving is a life skill and can be an important part of someone’s rehabilitation, a return to normal and it can be a help in finding employment. What is your experience of teaching disabled drivers like? How would you describe it? For the most part it’s fun. I have had one or two hairy moments however, once someone is sitting down and driving you mostly don’t notice any impairment. The smile is just as broad on test pass for those who are learning to drive for the first time and for experienced drivers who are returning to driving, the relief you see on their faces makes this a very rewarding job. For further information about Queen Elizabeth Foundation for Disabled People, visit their website. Read More...

  • Disability-Related Products We Love Disability products risk being old-fashioned and, well, a bit boring. In some cases, that's because something has worked for a long time and doesn't need any improvement, but often, innovations, better design and fresh thinking bring a whole new generation of gadgets and items that make people's lives better. That's what happened with us - blue badge wallets existed before, but they were often plastic and beige and very functional. Now, our bright, hand-made wallets adorn thousands of blue badges across the country and we get great feedback because people really enjoy having colourful, great quality alternatives. So, we're always on the lookout for companies whose products are also moving the world of disability products forwards. In this post, we want to share some of the things that we've found. Check out their websites below and have a look around! Tap2Tag Tap2Tag is a great example of a company applying innovative ideas to emerging technologies and making the world better for disabled and sick people. By harnessing near-field communication - technology that is expected to be present in the vast majority of new smartphones by the end of this year - Tap2Tag allows people to wear a scannable bracelet that contains vital information such as details of medication, emergency contact information and medical history. In the event of an emergency, ambulance staff or medics can simply scan the bracelet (or key fob, if you prefer) and these crucial pieces of information are made immediately available. This makes healthcare safer and more effective and avoids the need for an individual to remember a long list of tablets or be able to communicate when feeling unwell. This kind of tech sounds like it come with a hefty price tag but, in fact, the key fobs cost £8 and the bracelets are just £15. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tap2Tag?fref=ts Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tap2Tag   Flexyfoot Ferrules are the rubber caps at the base of a crutch or walking stick. They should be checked regularly because, if they start to wear down, they can cause the crutch to slip, because it loses grip, and this increases the risk of slips and falls. Crutch and walking stick users need to know that their ferrule is safe and reliable so that we can have confidence when putting our weight on the aid. Falls can have an impact on confidence, as well as risking injury - if you're like me and fall over fairly regularly at the best of times, it's really important to know that my crutch isn't making this worse rather than better! Flexyfoot has won awards for its new design of ferrule, which helps to extend the life of a walking stick, reduces the risk of falls, and can even reduce pain. Its unique size and shape means that it is better at absorbing impact, described as being "like having a spring on the foot of your walking aid". To use a Flexyfoot product, the existing ferrule on your stick or crutch can be easily removed and replaced by a Flexyfoot, which just needs to be pushed onto the end of the device. It's that simple. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/flexyfoot?fref=ts Twitter:  https://twitter.com/flexyfoot01   Rackety's Rackety's sells clothes that are specially designed to cater for the needs of disabled children and adults. They produce clothes that take into account the problems that wheelchair users can face with more conventional clothing, clothes that make it easier to manage incontinence pads and colourful bibs, all for both adults and children. Rackety's has a special panel of customers who advise and recommend products and improvements. They say, "We have learnt everything we know about the clothes you need, and the other things you find it difficult to get hold of by asking the people who know best. The Mums, Dads, sisters and brothers and the carers who are on the frontline of looking after children or adults with special or different needs every single day." A great example of the kind of clothing they sell is their children's pyjamas. As well as looking good, they have one zip closure, to make it easy to change nappies, and another across the stomach for easy tube access. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/racketys?fref=ts Twitter: https://twitter.com/Racketys     Read More...

  • Adapted Cars: Who Qualifies and How to Get Assessed Many disabled people use aids and adaptations to make their lives easier. I use a crutch and a range of groovy gadgets around my home to help me with things that would otherwise be tricky or painful. As we recently pointed out, these don't have to be all grey and boring any more, either! Photo credit: na0905 With cars, many disabled people find that there are adaptations and fixes that can make driving accessible to them, too. They can make a big difference to whether somebody is able to embark on learning to drive or not, so it is vital to find out what is available. The Motability Scheme allows disabled people to pay the Higher Rate Mobility Allowance from their DLA, the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of their PIP, their the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS) or their Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP) in exchange for the rental of a specially adapted car. In return, you get a brand new car every three years and the insurance, breakdown cover, tax, servicing and repairs and more are all covered for you. You can find out exactly what you are entitled to if you join the Motability Scheme here. If you qualify for the scheme, the first thing you do is choose your car. Consider whether you need room to store a wheelchair or other equipment, and the kind of driving and distances you will be doing. You also need to take into account any adaptations you will need. Motability puts these into three main categories: Driving adaptations to help improve your driving experience Stowage adaptations - these allow you to stow your scooter or wheelchair Access adaptations which help you get in and out of the car. Their website has an interactive tool to help you to work out the most useful adaptations for your situation. The second stage is to find a local Motability dealer (and there are 5,000 across the country, so that shouldn't be too difficult!). Then, order your vehicle. There is tonnes of information on the Motability website and they also have a telephone helpline to answer any specific questions about your situation. It is worth taking the time at this stage to make sure everything is right, rather than ending up with a car that isn't quite suitable. Give them a ring and, if you qualify and the scheme seems like a good deal to you, you can put the process into motion. Next, you need a driving instructor and our next post will cover the issues that disabled learners can face, and how a suitable driving instructor can help. Read More...

  • Driving with a Health Condition or Disability: The Rules Many people find that being able to drive offers them independence and freedom, and these can be especially important factors for disabled people. However, there are some health conditions and impairments prevent people from having a driving licence so, before you start getting excited and booking driving lessons, it's worth checking whether or not you will face limitations. The first thing to know is that, if you already drive and your doctor tells you you should stop driving, you must immediately send your licence back to DVLA for them to consider your situation. This is called 'surrendering your driving licence' and you can download the form and the information you need on this government webpage. When DVLA have assessed your suitability to drive, they will then return your licence if appropriate. There is also a long list of medical conditions that disabled and unwell people should be aware of. It is far too lengthy to reproduce here but it includes everything from Acoustic Neuroma to Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. Look through this list and, if you have any of the conditions listed, follow the instructions. For some, like depression or strokes, you may need to inform the DVLA whereas for others, like labyrinthitis and narcolepsy, you are obliged to contact them, by law. It sounds complicated, and maybe a bit overwhelming, but it is really important that you don't drive if you're unsure whether you're well enough to. Not only do you risk prosecution or fines, you could also put yourself or others in danger. If your condition is not listed but you have any concerns, check with your doctor or with the DVLA and they will advise you. If everybody is happy that you are safe to learn to drive, then it's time to get enthusiastic and start planning! The next step is to work out whether you would need your car to have any adaptations to help you to drive. Check out our next blog post in this series - to be published on Monday - about cars and adaptations for disabled drivers. Read More...

  • Disabled and Learning to Drive? What You Need to Know Learning to drive can be both scary and exciting. A growing sense of freedom ("I can go anywhere!") can combine with a huge sense of responsibility ("I'm in charge of this massive metal machine!"), and anxieties about learning a new skill can also surface, seemingly out of nowhere. For a disabled person, there might be extra things to take into account, Does your illness, impairment or medication mean you can't drive? Do you need a specially adapted car? Will your driving instructor understand your needs? Over the next few days, we will answer all these questions for you on this blog. There are organisations and people who have specialised knowledge and advice in these areas and we will link to the best information on the web. It will include: details of how to find out if you have a health conditions that means you're not allowed to drive an interview with a professional driving instructor who works with disabled learners information on adapted cars: how to find out if you qualify for one, if you need one, and how to get one. As always, we are available on Twitter and Facebook and we will always try to answer any questions and help when we can! Read More...