Ausnew Home Care | Perth woman Ro-Anne Steele helping people with a disability get behind the wheel

Perth woman Ro-Anne Steele helping people with a disability get behind the wheel

disability Disability Employment Services disability law disability stereotypes intellectual disability Living With a Disability NDIS NDIS Aged Care Approved NDIS and Personal Care NDIS Plan no ‘dis’ in disability. Personal Care Services under NDIS Seeing the ability in disability umbrella of disability

Ro-Anne Steele feels fortunate every day to be able to help her disabled clients learn how to drive safely.

She's one of a handful of driving instructors in Perth teaching people living with a disability – which is not an easy task.

"Driving is taken for granted by people who don't have a disability," Ms Steele said.

For many L-platers, just the thought of being behind the wheel for the first time is daunting enough.

But for Ms Steele's clients, there is an entire extra layer of anxiety.

"Following simple instructions to steer correctly can be very difficult for someone who has difficulty with coordination," she said.

Ro Anne Steele behind the wheel of her car.
Ro-Anne Steele says patience and empathy are essential when teaching people how to drive. (Supplied: Jed Lyall Photography)

"Focusing on more than one thing, which driving demands all the time, is very hard for someone who has a disability and is leaning a new skill.

"Sounds and sudden traffic changes can be frightening."

Ms Steele said the physical hurdles were also huge.

"A person with one arm has to be more agile to manoeuvre to buckle up and change gears," she said.

"Quadriplegics sometimes need additional harness support to stay upright.

"Parking is a huge issue if ACROD bays are taken."

Max Devery in his wheelchair outside the car, with and Ro Anne Steele standing behind him.
Max Devery and Ro-Anne Steele get ready for a lesson. (Supplied: Jed Lyall Photography)

Max Devery, 16, is learning to drive for the first time with Ms Steele.

Max has a spinal injury from a motocross accident and said he wanted a driver's licence so he can become more independent.

He needs to use a hand control to steer the steering wheel.

"Her vehicle has the same hand controls I use in my own car and [she] can teach me the correct skills to apply when I am completing hours with my mum and dad."

Max Devery's holds with steering wheel while wearing specialised hand controls.
The special hand controls Max Devery uses while driving. (Supplied: Jed Lyall Photography)

Ms Steele said every person she teaches has different needs, and her lessons adapt to each one.

"Driver training is done with a step-by-step approach and new skills are broken down into more manageable steps to assist the learner to learn at a pace that is comfortable without cognitive overload," she said.

'You never know what you are capable of'

Sophie Bishop Waugh, a person with cerebral palsy, said it was eleven years before she felt comfortable behind the wheel of a car.

She said previous driving instructors had not accommodated her needs, and not put her at ease.

"As daunting as it was in the beginning, I was constantly re-assured that gaining my license was achievable," she said.

Sophie Bishop Waugh using modified vehicle controls.
Sophie Bishop Waugh uses modified vehicle controls when she gets behind the wheel. (Supplied: Sophie Bishop Waugh)

"The NDIS was not available at the time, so I was not pressured to rush to learn to drive due to financial constraints."

Sophie said she would never want anyone with a disability to feel like learning to drive or passing your test is impossible.

"You never know what you are capable of until you give it a go."

A test before the test

While it isn't law, an occupational therapy driving assessment may be considered in order to prove a person's fitness to drive in Western Australia.

Occupational therapist Christopher Pearce said that assessment was considered the "gold standard" in assessing a person's suitability to drive.

Mr Pearce said the assessment included both a clinical, off-road assessment and a practical on-road evaluation.

"The clinical assessment helps to build a profile of the individual against the activity of driving – including their physical, cognitive, visual, and behavioural strengths and weaknesses," he said.

NDIS funding could also be accessed in some cases to assist someone with a disability to drive.

"We will confirm your eligibility and decide what services you need," an NDIS spokesperson said.

"If necessary, we may require an on-road assessment from a driving instructor qualified in rehabilitation training."

Patience and empathy essential

Ms Steele said she was passionate about the work she does, and the independence students gain through learning to drive.

Driving instructor Ro Anne Steele working at her desk.
Driving instructor Ro-Anne Steele has run her business for 12 years. (Supplied: Jed Lyall Photography)

She said teaching people with a disability takes patience, empathy, clear instructions and in her very humble opinion, unconditional love.

"Only when we work with people with disabilities do we develop a proper understanding of what life is like when you have to deal with so much."

Older Post Newer Post