Driving one's car wherever one wants to go -- particularly in a non-urban environment -- epitomizes freedom. In fact, it's a privilege many drivers take for granted. But for adults with physical limitations, driving a car -- an essential tool for living independently -- can be a challenge.
Helen Bruder, who runs Norwalk Hospital's driver rehabilitation program, says the service is invaluable for drivers recovering from injury or illness, as well as for older drivers. "For many patients, the program is the last step in their rehabilitation," she says. "And for older drivers who are unsure whether or not they should continue driving, the program's really helpful in giving them tips on how to keep them driving safely."
Central to helping people get back on the road is a highly accessorized van Helen uses to assess and train drivers. It features numerous modifications to facilitate driving for those who are challenged, even slightly. "We offer left-footed pedals for people whose right legs have limited motion. We also offer complete hand controls [knobs and grips] that are mounted next to the steering wheel for individuals who can't use their legs," says Helen.
Norwalk Hospital's Driver Rehabilitation Program is the only comprehensive driver evaluation and training program of its kind in Fairfield County. It also includes clinical evaluation of vision, cognition and physical capabilities. After they're assessed, individuals go behind the wheel and pilot the van, which also has dual controls. Those who require adaptive equipment to drive are instructed on the most appropriate devices. Helen then provides training until the driver is comfortable and competent enough to take to the road.
Although physicians refer patients to the program, Helen finds that with older drivers, frequently family members concerned about their loved ones' driving abilities often arrange for that person to enroll in the program.
"We just want people who are able to drive to be able to do so," says Helen. And she's just the person to get them on the road again.
For more information about the driver rehabilitation program, call (203) 852-3400.
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