The St Helens based North West Driving Assessment Service has helped Claire Holtaway to achieve her goal to drive independently with cerebral palsy.
Accredited by the national charity Driving Mobility, North West Driving Assessment Service (NWDAS) is part of the Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust based in St Helens.
Its specialist team of Occupational Therapists and Approved Driving Instructors provide professional support and driving assessments to people who need to gain, or retain, the ability to drive following a diagnosis involving impairment or disability. They have recently introduced car seat and harness assessment clinics for disabled children and mobility scooter assessments to their range of services.
Claire, 26, developed an interest in learning to drive at the age of 19. Following discussions with several friends with disabilities, she was encouraged to investigate how and where she could turn her dream into a reality.
Claire said: “My parents came across NWDAS through a friend whose daughter attended assessments there whilst learning to drive. I decided to contact them for advice and was invited to an initial meeting.
"We discussed my medical history and my physical and visual abilities so the centre could plan effectively with me how to reach my goal.”
In August 2012, Claire began driving assessments at NWDAS which continued for four years. As well as learning to drive a car, it was important she found the most comfortable and suitable vehicle adaptations to ensure safe driving.
During this time, the centre trialled a variety of specialist driving aids as well as cushions and backrests until the best accessible options were identified.
Claire addeds: “It was a slow process – which was exactly what I needed to build my confidence and to provide me with enough road practice.
"My assessor, Dave, was incredibly patient throughout. He tried many different mobility aids in a bid to simplify the driving process for me.
"Initially, we tried a Lodgesons Lollipop infa-red hand control on the steering wheel to operate the indicators, horn, window wipers etc. but I found this quite difficult to use. So, for a while, I drove an automatic car with dual controls whilst Dave controlled the indicators and anything else that I struggled with.”
After a few years, the NWDAS staff suggested to Claire that she should try the hand control again and she found it now suited her well.
In addition, they recommended an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI), Martin Vivers, who could provide specialist tuition from home.
In May 2017 Claire successfully passed her driving test at the first attempt. Whilst she continues to take refresher lessons with Martin to retain road confidence, she acknowledges that being able to drive has been a huge boost to her independence.
Claire said: “Martin has been such a supportive mentor throughout - building on my skills, knowledge and confidence, and taking me to test level!
"Having obtained my driving licence, I have now moved to my first flat. I have also just started driving a VW Transporter which enables me to transfer from my wheelchair independently. I access the car through a boot lift and lock my wheelchair down in the back of the vehicle.
"I use a swivel driving seat as well which assists me with mobility. My car has all the correct accessories and adaptations that I require for driving independence and I happily credit this to the help I received from NWDAS – the team’s support went way beyond my expectations. The staff at the Centre have been incredibly understanding and I now know that driving is indeed a possibility.”