A joy ride to independence

Accessible transport, much like a mobility aid, helps people with disabilities to be more independent, access employment opportunities and participate in society. Rolling Inspiration reports.

Few know better than Des Harmse that, with an adapted vehicle and driver’s licence, you can experience even more independence. Des is a driver trainer at Driving Ambitions – a programme run by QASA to assist people with mobility impairments to obtain their driver’s licence. He has been teaching for eight years and says: “I have heard some horror stories from some of my students who used taxis and buses. One student told me that taxi drivers simply ignored them as they waited at the roadside or charged double as stopping wastes time and their mobility aid takes up space that could be filled by another paying commuter. Another person said that they were treated as if they had a disease. People would not sit next to them for fear they might catch something.”

Even the formal public transport systems in South Africa, like buses and trains, still fail to offer a quality service to commuters with disabilities. Would-be passengers often have to wait a long time for a bus or train that can accommodate them; and they still have to deal with  prejudice.

Johan Cillie, project engineer at Easy Drive, which carries out vehicle conversions, says: “When you compare the situation in South Africa with the trend overseas, you realise how far behind we really are. At the end of the day, it’s all about independence and not having to rely on somebody else.”

Who can drive?

A person with a disability who wishes to drive should consult with an occupational therapist who is qualified to perform a driving assessment. Des says: “Quadriplegics and paraplegics who have been assessed and are fit to drive can be taught to drive with very few problems.

“An occupational therapist helps with the assessment of people with neurological impairments or quadriplegics.” The driver’s ability to operate the controls, reaction time, cognitive ability and visual acuity all need to be assessed.

Buying a car

People with disabilities who purchase imported vehicles that require adaptation can have the import duties relieved. An application form needs to be completed and approved by the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA), after which it needs to be approved by SARS. You can contact the NCPPDSA on
011 452 2774 or make an appointment with a tax consultant for more information.

When choosing a vehicle, keep in mind that the vehicle can be fitted with suitable hand controls and that drive-from-wheelchair, although expensive, is an option. “If a vehicle is going to be adapted, the size of the doors and the height of the seat will have an influence on how easily the individual can transfer from their wheelchair into the car,” says Cillie.

Almost all vehicles can be adapted. Cillie adds: “The most important thing is to work with recognised service providers and builders who have your safety and best interests at heart.”

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