Drivers with disabilities get back on roads with assistive gadgets

More people with disabilities taking courses to get back behind the wheel

They may have suffered a stroke or lost a limb but many drivers are getting back behind the wheel.

The Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), which has been conducting driving courses for people with disabilities since 1984, said demand for such courses has increased in recent years.

It now takes in an average of eight new students every month for its refresher programme, which caters to people who already have licences but who have become disabled due to a medical condition.

Two years ago, it took in only one or two such students a month.

Demand for its beginners course, which is for those who are disabled and do not have a driving licence, has remained constant, at about six students a year.

Singapore's ageing population, and an increasing number of people who have suffered strokes, could explain the rising figures, said the association's transport manager Simon Ching.

The students must first be certified by Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Driving Assessment and Rehabilitation Programme as being medically fit to drive before they are referred to HWA to take the course.

When the drivers taking the refresher course are ready, they are assessed by a driving instructor from the association and an occupational therapist, said Mr Ching.

Many people become proficient drivers after about four 100-minute lessons, he added. Each refresher lesson costs about $75.

For beginner drivers, lessons costs $60 a session. Students usually complete between 25 and 30 lessons, and they take the theory and practical tests at a driving school.

Mr Ching said there are a range of devices to help disabled drivers, such as a hand-control gadget used to manipulate the car's accelerator and brake pedals.

There is also a tri-pin steering knob, which can be fixed onto the steering wheel, allowing drivers with a weak grip to steer with ease.

The gadgets can be fitted onto most cars but after they have been installed, the vehicles have to be sent to the Land Transport Authority for approval.

The public can get a closer look at such devices at the RehabTech Asia exhibition, held at the Singapore Expo and which is open to the public today from 10am to 6pm.

Mr Dexter Goh, 57, a senior assistant executive with HWA, uses a steering knob and a hand-control gadget to drive his Toyota Altis.

Mr Goh, who contracted polio as a child, has weak lower limbs and uses a wheelchair.

He said driving helps him get around easily from his home in Woodlands to his workplace in Whampoa Drive, and to play wheelchair basketball twice a week in Dover.

"I'm a very active person... I also pick my wife up after work to go for dinner," he added.

adrianl@sph.com.sg