Shona, 24, is a Theatre Access Consultant and photographer, who regularly writes about disability and accessibility across the media. She lives with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition affecting the body’s connective tissues, and has undergone several operations due to hip and spinal problems, as well as heart surgery in 2021.
With the ability to walk short distances, Shona began using a manual wheelchair when she was 18 for longer distances and upgraded to a Quantum Q6 Edge powerchair three years ago. Shortly before the Covid pandemic, she began to consider learning to drive to enhance her independence and increase her ability to review theatre accessibility. Shona explains:
‘I planned to purchase a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) and learn to drive in it. But I first needed to confirm which adaptations I would require. Having spoken to some friends with disabilities, I had a good understanding about aids I could use to transfer from my powerchair to the driving seat. However, as my hips won’t sustain pressure from foot pedals, I really needed specialist advice regarding driving with hand controls. I contacted Motability who recommended an assessment with Herts Ability.’
Herts Ability, based in Welwyn Garden City, is a charity providing driving and scooter assessments; seating clinics; through to guidance regarding mobility aids for daily living. They are accredited by Driving Mobility who oversee 20 similar organisations nationally and 70 outreach facilities in England and Wales, ensuring consistent service and standards. Each Driving Mobility centre provides clinically led, driving and mobility assessments so disabled individuals of all ages can achieve greater mobility. Service users are signposted towards the most appropriate adapted vehicles, wheelchairs, scooters, and accessible transport. Clients can self-refer for an assessment or are directed from the DVLA, Motability, Police and healthcare professionals such as GPs and Occupational Therapists.
Following Shona’s conversation with Motability, she contacted Sarah Wright, Occupational Therapist at Herts Ability, to provide an initial overview of her condition and mobility requirements, and in September 2020, Shona visited the Centre for a driving assessment.
“The Centre staff were really welcoming. I had an in-depth chat with Sarah, the Occupational Therapist, to begin with to discuss my medical history, and cognitive abilities. I was then asked to perform some tasks so that she could be assured I would be safe and comfortable in a vehicle.”
“I was then driven to a quiet area of the Driving Centre and given the opportunity to drive – which was my first time ever. I was surprised how easy it was with guidance and the right adaptations to help me. The assessment was really informative and confirmed, in my mind, that hand controls would definitely be the best way forwards.”
Following Shona’s assessment, the Driving Mobility centre provided a written report with recommendations for driving adaptations, including push pull hand controls for braking and accelerating and a steering wheel ball to assist with one-handed steering. This enabled Shona to confidently proceed with her plan of purchasing an adapted vehicle via Motability. Her new vehicle also has an automatic rear ramp which allows Shona to drive her electric powerchair into the car, lock it down, and self-transfer on to the driving seat.
“Following the guidance I received, I’m delighted to now have the perfect set-up for independent driving which will benefit my work greatly. As well as being an access consultant, I am a portrait, theatre and live events photographer. Being able to reach venues easily is so important to me and I’m delighted that this is now the case. Herts Ability made the whole process so simple. The assessment was really straightforward. I felt relaxed and fully informed. I would really recommend them.
“Unfortunately, due to Covid delays, I had to wait for nine months to find an external Approved Driving Instructor due to the driving tuition delays during lockdown. However, I began my lessons in July 2021 and was delighted to pass my test first time in October. Considering I had undergone a heart operation in June, I think I’ve done quite well!”