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Adaptive driver training: a pathway to transition.

Transportation is a persistent problem for professionals delivering transition and supported employment services to people with disabilities (D'Alonzo & Drower, 1984; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations 1975; Wehman, Everson, Walker, Wood, & Marchant, 1987). Special educators responsible for implementing increased school-to-community transition services find that transportation problems can grow in proportion to escalated services.

Describing the transition of youths with disabilities from school to community, Halloran (1989) noted that transition "has become a critical concern for parents, professionals, and policy makers... unfortunately, when we look back to determine what preparations have been made for students to live and work in our communities we often see a series of disjointed efforts lacking a focus on skills necessary to confront the new expectations and demands of adult life" (p. xiii). Many people with disabilities have a broad range of employment and community service opportunities because of their access to transportation. Consequently, the relationship between transition and available transportation can be inextricably entwined. A solution to the problems of transporting people who are disabled may be provided by community service agencies or benefactors. However, another solution may be to encourage people to develop automotive driving skills.

Providing transportation guidance to people who are mildly disabled may involve problems, but these problems can be similar to the problems confronted by people who are nondisabled. However, special provisions are required when designing instruction for people who have moderate or severe cognitive, sensory, or physical disabilities.

Because of the complex and individualized character of transition programs, some transition problems may seem unavoidable. Transition is the process that enables people with disabilities to complete the learning experiences that are typically based and coordinated in the schools. Transition can require combined efforts of numerous people from diverse educational and community services. Transition education can commence early in the home or school and culminate with successful and productive community membership. According to Brolin and Schatzman (1989), transition for people with disabilities is a continuous, lifelong process that requires effective collaboration from a wide range of professionals. The requirement that every student with a disability receive transition services was enacted into law through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 (Pub.L. 101--476).(1) The following sections of this article address issues that instructors and administrators should be prepared to encounter when designing a transition program that includes adaptive driver training.

Assessing Aptitude for Driving

Assessing aptitude for driving an automobile can be a difficult process, especially when the potential driver has a combination of physical, perceptual, cognitive, and even emotional deficits. Special educators, physicians, therapists, rehabilitation specialists, psychologists, driver educators, and licensing agency personnel are examples of the professionals who can be consulted to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of individual driver candidates.

Driving an automobile is a complex task, requiring skills such as judgement about distance and speed, application of controlled force to brakes or an accelerator, negotiation of roadway turns, and the avoidance of hazards. Safe driving may be difficult, or even impossible, for some people with disabilities. Potential problems may be eliminated by adaptive driving equipment, techniques that compensate for physical deficits, or adaptive driver training. However, the initial stage of every adaptive driver training program should be a comprehensive assessment of aptitude for driving.

Assessing driving aptitude can be a two-part process. In an initial screening, one can review factors such as medical history, current physical condition, driver license status, and driver history. In a subsequent and more specialized phase of assessment, one might focus on perception, motor control, cognitive ability, driving knowledge, and the ability to operate a vehicle under simulated and actual conditions. Table 1 is a checklist of potential variables that might be the basis for a comprehensive assessment of driving aptitude.

After assessing driving aptitude for persons who are disabled, how does one determine what type of program will be responsive to the individual needs of each? Table 2, which is adapted from data contained in a report compiled by Sabo and Shipp (1988), lists several types of disabilities and select areas of potential impact for these disabilities. Table 2 contains the type of information that could complement assessments synchronized to factors such as those listed in Table 1. Individual evaluators could create a summary of this sort for the specific learners that they had assessed. This summary information could assist instructors and administrators in estimating both the feasibility and cost of an adaptive driver training program that was suited to the precise abilities and needs of their students. Such programs can incorporate adaptive driving equipment, structural modifications to vehicles, and compensatory driving techniques.

Adaptive Driving Devices

There are many adaptive devices available commercially. These range from a simple spinner knob that can assist people who can steer with a single hand to a complex, pneumatic powered, servo assisted brake and accelerator control that can allow people with restricted ability to use their limbs. While a lack of visual acuity is sometimes corrected with lenses, blind spots, tunnel vision, or limited visual fields may require oversized and specially positioned mirrors.

All physical and perceptual deficits cannot be eliminated through adaptive devices. Severe tremors, excessive spasticity, or substantial loss of visual fields are examples of deficits that can prevent persons from becoming safe drivers. Sometimes it is not augmentative devices but therapy adjustments in medication, surgical procedures, or the mastery of compensatory driving strategies that are responsible for a change in an individual's driving aptitude.

Once persons have been assessed as having the potential for safe driving, they are ready for adaptive driver training. In adaptive driver training programs, learners are advised about adaptive devices that can enhance safe operation of vehicles. Table 3 lists adaptive devices that are associated with functional handicapping conditions. Before purchasing adaptive equipment, the following guidelines should be considered. Drivers should:

* obtain an aptitude-for-driving assessment from the professional personnel at a rehabilitation or adaptive driving center;

* ask for a list of suggested adaptive driving devices and vehicle modifications from the professional personnel at a rehabilitation or adaptive driving center;

* solicit competitive bids for adaptive devices and vehicle modifications from several companies;

* consult with other drivers who have disabilities about the effectiveness of devices and modifications and about the satisfaction ratings they would assign the different companies that provide these services;

* ask personnel at a rehabilitation or adaptive driving center to check the installed devices and modified vehicle;

* request that staff at a rehabilitation or adaptive driving center ensure that devices and modifications are appropriate, accessible, and operated effectively by the driver; and

* ask personnel at a rehabilitation or adaptive driving center to recheck the equipment regularly and frequently.

The following organizations offer information and services that can assist administrators, instructors, and individuals who are involved with adaptive driver training: American Automobile Association, Manager--Traffic Safety, 12600 Fair Lakes Circle, Fairfax, VA 22033; American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, 123 North Pitt Street, Suite 509, Alexandria, VA 22314; American Medical Association Physicians' Guide for Determining Driver Limitation, 535 North Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60610; Association of Driver Educators for the Disabled, ADED Secretariat, 33736 La Crosse, Westland, MI 48185; Chrysler Motors -- Physically-Challenged Resource Center, P.O. Box 159, Detroit, MI 48288-0150; Easter Seal Society for Crippled Children & Adults, Inc. Education for the Handicapped Person Project, 37 Harvard St., Worcester, MA 01608; Louisiana Tech University--Adaptive Driving Program, Center for Rehabilitation Science and Biomedical Engineering, P.O. Box 10426, Ruston, LA 71272; Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America, 1101 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036; U.S. Department of Transportation--Handicapped Driver Section, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC 20591; and Veterans Administration--Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service, 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20420.


(1) This law defines transition services as "... a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to postschool activities, including postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation. The coordinated set of activities shall be based upon the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests and shall include instruction, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation." (29 U.S.C. Section 1401 (a)(19) (Supp. 1993).


[1.] Brolin, D., & Schatzman, B. (1989). Lifelong career development. In D.E. BerKell & J.M. Brown 9Eds.), Transition from School to work for persons with disabilities (pp. 1-2). NY: Longman.

[2.] D'Alonzo, B.J., & Drower, I. (1984). Driver education for tjr mildly handicapped: One approach. Teaching Exceptional Children. 17 (1), 10-17.

[3.] Halloran, W. (1989). Foreword. In D.E. Berkell & J.M. Brown (Eds.), Transition from school to work for persons with sisabilitie (pp. xiii-xvi). NY: Longman.

[4.] National Highway Traffic Administration (1975, July). The Driver Education Evaluation Program (DEEP) study: A report to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.

[5.] Sabo, S., & Shipp, (1988). Disabilities and their Implications for driving. Ruston, LA: Louisaiana Tech University. Center for Rehabilitation Science and Biomedical Engineering.

[6.] Wehman, P., Everson, J., Walker, R.,Wood, W., & Merchant, J. (1987). Transition services for adolescent age individuals with severe mental retardation. In R.N. Ianacone & R. A. Stodden (Eds.), Transition issues and directions (pp. 49-76). Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
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Author:Giordano, Gerard
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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