Updated: Nov 8, 2020
When The Occupational Therapy Hub asked me to share this piece with them I was more than willing to get my story out there - because, if I’d read a post about someone’s driving experience when I was 15, I would be a lot further in this journey! So here it goes, put your seat belt on (pun intended). This is quite a story!
When I started to plan for college at 16, I realised that what I’d always known was about to change. My timetable wasn’t 8:30-15:00 every day, so my parents could no longer drop me off and pick me up. This meant that I would be getting a lot more taxis and, at this time, the thought of being in a taxi alone made me feel vulnerable. But then I thought I’ll start driving lessons soon - then, in the second year, I’ll be able to drive (which of course made me eager to start driving). So, 6 months before my 17th birthday I applied for my provisional licence. My 16-year-old-self thought that it would be enough time to get the ball rolling, not knowing what was ahead...
The first hurdle: As a result of my Cerebral Palsy I have epilepsy, which didn’t make getting my provisional licence easy - despite not having a seizure in 12 years. But, after filling out multiple forms, 3 months later my provisional licence came. This process itself took a lot longer than anticipated and started to make me realise that this course was going to be more complex than expected. As soon as my provisional licence came, we started looking for a disabled driving instructor, knowing that I’d probably need a little extra support. So, after another few months of phone calls, I finally had my first driving lesson, 2 days after my 17th birthday. Again, we didn’t think it would take another 3 months on top of this and had hoped that I would have had a few lessons by this point. Being disabled you can start at 16 (clearly something I didn’t know). But I didn’t mind. It felt right, as I was starting around the same time as my peers and I was where I wanted to be!
My first lesson was meant to be 2 hours but, after an hour, we discovered that I needed further adaptations. The next stage was to go to a centre to be assessed. My report came through from my driving lesson and a date was made to go to the assessment centre. I waited to go there for 5 months. I didn’t mind because this was over summer, so I could start over summer when I wasn’t at college, meaning that I could have more lessons and speed up the process. Over this period, I was told to start revising for my theory test, so I did. Luckily I didn’t book anything before knowing the outcome of the assessment. I thought that if I was being told to put in for my theory then it couldn’t be much of a wait.
"The tests included trying different adaptations, as well as having reading and cognitive test. You name it, I had it!"
The day had finally arrived. I was going to the assessment centre and I thought that I could see light at the end of the tunnel. It was a very long day; the assessment centre was quite a drive away as well, but I was prepared for a long day! The tests included trying different adaptations, as well as having reading and cognitive test. You name it, I had it! It was quite a draining day, so I slept most of the journey home. We’d concluded that I was too weak in my legs to be able to use the break and accelerator. So we explored alternative options - one of them being a lighter steering wheel, which had the break and accelerator attached to the wheel. This assessment was useful, because we discovered that I couldn’t use my legs and that I was cognitively able to drive. But we’d not found a way for me to drive. I came out of the assessment feeling deflated, as this was the first time that I’d realised that I may never be able to drive. Side note: This assessment was carried out by an occupational therapist - just thought I’d mention it!
I was then referred to have another assessment with a driving instructor. The wait was only a month and during that time I was ready to go on holiday and just forget about driving! Once again, the day came - but this time I wasn’t that excited, as I didn’t want to get my hopes up for them to be demolished again. However, this assessment turned out to be the best one, as we managed to find an adaptation that I was able to use. A year later and things were finally looking up. The adaptation I found was the tiller, which works a bit like the handlebars on a bike.
So, it was decided that the tiller would be the adaptation I should use! However, this meant more waiting. There were only two vans in the country fitted with this adaptation for learner drivers; if I was to have this adaptation I would have to have my own vehicle adapted first, before I learnt how to drive. This resulted in more assessments, to ensure this was the right adaptation.
With a load more phone calls, emails and letters, another 6 months went by. The guy that came was lovely and he walked in and straightaway said ”You’re going to get this adaptation, our number one priority is to get you driving.” Relief - I’d not waited another 6 months to get rejected. Just an update (for those not counting): the total time I’ve been waiting, since applying for my provisional license, is 18 months... It was now time to hunt for cars. Quite exciting, although my options were limited; I needed a car big enough for a hoist for my electric wheelchair. However, a lot of the bigger cars require someone over 25 to drive them, so I had very few options.
A few months went by and we’d picked a car and got the ball rolling. Little did we know that our plans were about to get knocked back again… The plan was to get the car and then send it away for it to be adapted with the tiller. This didn’t take off as quickly as expected, as the company were having trouble getting hold of the car. We had to wait until they could get hold of the car; as mentioned, all suitable cars required the driver to be over 25. So at this point I’m thinking 'I’ll just have to wait until I turn 25 before I can drive' - thinking that was my only option. Fast forward 4 months and we finally have a car; the adaptation process begins! At this point, I was going back and forth to have fittings. Once again, the car took a lot longer to be adapted than we thought. But it had to be perfect, even if that added another 4 months on!
During this time, I decided that it was time to do my theory. Good job I didn’t do it 2 years ago when I got told to! So now that my theory was done, I was just eager to start driving lessons. But there was nothing I could do apart from wait; I’d played my part at this stage.
"My life is always going to be full of unexpected battles, it’s just part of Cerebral Palsy. Even though this is frustrating, it only makes the result more worthwhile."
We are now up-to-date, 34 months later!
I finally have my car and have started my driving lessons. This unexpected battle has taught me a lot. Even though I’ve spent the majority of these 3 years being very stressed and frustrated with the process, this has been a massive learning curve. My life is always going to be full of unexpected battles, it’s just part of Cerebral Palsy. Even though this is frustrating, it only makes the result more worthwhile. After all this waiting, I’d be lying if I said I don’t want it to all be over and to pass my test... But doesn’t everyone? Driving will be great for me, as it’ll give me much more independence. It doesn’t just allow me to go to places; it allows to go to places alone, because then I can go in my chair! So it will be worth it in the end. At least now I can wholeheartedly say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
There have been so many people involved in this journey that I would like to thank! I would also like to thank my parents for literally spending days on the phone. If it wasn’t for their hard work, I wouldn’t be at this stage!
I’ve previously discovered that you can apply for your provisional licence from the age of 15 and 9 months, so if you’re coming up for this age, get applying. I wish I’d have known that!
Thank you for reading.
Georgia's website: Not so Terrible Palsy