Top tips for disabled learner drivers
For so many years, I’ve dreamed of being able to drive. For many reasons I’ve waited until now (at the age of 27) to finally apply for motability and buy a car. To give you a little context, I’m a wheelchair user from West Yorkshire. I love socialising, visiting cities and hanging out with friends from all over the UK. Anyway, after a few years of practising using trains and buses, I thought it was about time to take the next step and learn to drive. With covid changing 2020 for everyone, learning to drive hasn’t been a smooth ride (pardon the pun!). However, as I’ve been using my car since it arrived - I noticed a few things that I wish someone has told me which may have helped being a disabled learner driver. So I thought I’d share them with you too!
For me, I have a number of adaptations in my car. I have a Ford Torneo Connect with an electric ramp, a wheelchair drive in lock as well as space drive hand controls. When my car first arrived, although it was exciting - I was also very overwhelmed with how it all worked. With a lot of my car being powered by electrics, it makes a lot of beeping, which I had no idea what half of them meant! So I’d definitely say take the time to really get to know your car. It sounds silly but just sit in it - see what everything does (whilst stationary of course!). Once I’d done this, it then meant I felt a lot more confident knowing I could work my car.
This obviously depends on what your disability is. But for me as a wheelchair user, it’s not just as simple as opening a door and jumping in. It is so much quicker than it used to be though! However, it did take me awhile to get used to lining up my chair to the ramp and driving to the drivers area. I always find it harder to navigate new things when people are watching me, so when I would try it in the garage I’d find myself feeling flustered. But now my car has arrived, I’ve really taken the time to know my space inside it, and now I get in and out within seconds!
One thing I found when I was learning with someone I didn’t know, I just wanted to get on with it. However, as I kept going in the car, I’d notice particular aches and pains after. Or I’d be driving and realise I wasn’t quite sat right for when I was going uphill. One way I’ve navigated this is driving a little and then pausing and thinking about how I feel. It’s important to be vocal with your instructor or who you are with to make sure you’re not just pushing yourself with pressure.
On the same topic - I think managing your energy levels is important too. For me, driving is a whole new physical skill and activity that I’ve never experienced before. I’d go for one drive and be exhausted all day and even some of the next. Some people around you may say, “have as many lessons as possible!!”. However, I do think if you have health conditions to consider too, it’s important to know yourself and what your limits are. For me, even if I have a rest from driving - I don’t find myself losing anything, I’m still at the same level as I was before. So relax, take it at your own pace - and most importantly, enjoy!
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