Why Padraic is looking forward to learning how to drive from wheelchair in new hi-tech vehicle
Focus on assisted driving
For Padraic Hayes, from Shannon, Co Clare last Thursday was hugely important.
It marked the arrival of an opportunity for him to learn how to drive.
He will be one of the first to do so in a new hi-tech vehicle. It is rather special in that it allows people with significant physical disabilities to drive from their own wheelchair.
Padraic begins his intensive residential course in early September.
"I'm really looking forward to getting on the road," he said.
Mr Hayes added that he "very much" values the increased level of independence and freedom that will accompany learning to drive.
He was speaking after the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) introduced the new vehicle, which Independent Motors detailed last week.
Padraic had special mention for the hand controls in the car which, he felt, would "greatly assist" him as he begins his learning journey.
He found the car "spacious" and his power wheelchair fitted comfortably and securely in the vehicle.
At the same time there was plenty of room for passengers.
Padraic joined Rosemary Keogh, chief executive officer of the IWA, to officially cut the ribbon on the new 'Drive from Wheelchair Tuition Vehicle' - the first of its kind in Ireland - in Athlone.
Several people with disabilities, and their families, attended. It was a special day for all concerned.
As we outlined last week, the vehicle provides those with physical disabilities, who use a power wheelchair, the chance to learn to drive.
They can do so securely from their own wheelchair and safely alongside an IWA driving instructor.
The vehicle has a range of adaptations, controls and 'assistive technology' which makes driving possible for those with a wide range of learning requirements.
As such, it is expected to benefit many people by significantly increasing their level of independence on a day-to-day basis.
That could mean a major improvement in their prospects for getting a new or better job or taking the further education route.
Ms Keogh detailed just how significant the new car could be for people.
"Driving is probably one of the most important skills acquired during a lifetime in terms of the potential it releases for an individual to be independent," she said.
"Unfortunately many people who develop a disability as a consequence of an illness, or accident, find their capacity to drive is affected and this greatly impacts their independence.
"They quickly find themselves dependent on others for transportation and feel less in control of what they can do and where and when they can do it.
"Likewise, many people with life-long disabilities, who have not learnt to drive, have never experienced the freedom and independence that motoring brings."
She said the IWA aims to support as many of its members in getting on the road.
The association gives driving tuition at 10 centres around the country with the type, and time, of guidance tailored to suit individual needs. The team of specialist and experienced driving instructors provide more than 5,000 lessons a year.
And they get a high driving-test pass rate.
More than 500 people were assessed or got driving tuition from the IWA Driving School last year.
The association says the lives of large numbers of people have been "transformed" simply by being able to drive. That is particularly the case with people living in rural areas where, as we know, public transport can be limited and access to it can be difficult for those with a physical disability.
At the event, Moyagh Murdock, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) emphasised how driver training is so essential for those with a disability so that they can drive safely on our roads.
She said the RSA's policy is to promote mobility to the "greatest possible degree".
She said the expansion of the IWA training-vehicle fleet will offer opportunities for training to those who may not have the option up to now. She spoke of the role the IWA has played in assisting and advocating for drivers with a disability over the last fifty years.
The IWA will provide lessons from the new driving-school vehicle countrywide. It is also offering intensive residential courses from its National Holiday Centre in Cuisle, Co Roscommon. And Padraic Hayes can't wait to get started.
We wish him and all who will learn to drive the best of luck and safe driving.