Passed in an adapted automatic car in August 2019, her second test with 6 faults.
Parents View – Joanne, Natasha’s Mum
Natasha has Cerebral Palsy with a Spastic diplegia, a neurological condition affecting muscle control, coordination and range of movement. Natasha’s condition particularly affects her legs, arms and wrist. This causes difficulties in her ability to walk, as well as reduced strength and dexterity in her hands and upper body. Ultimately, driving in a conventional way, using arms, legs and feet to control the car wasn’t going to be possible for Natasha. When Natasha was 14, we visited East Anglian Driveability in Thetford, for an ability to learn to drive assessment. Their specialist identified that Natasha was capable of learning to drive, but she would need to use hand controls. Specifically, a radial accelerator and push braking system, and a steering control.
Living in Burwell, a rural village 10 miles outside of Cambridge, Natasha needs to be able to drive in order to be independent. The bus service from Burwell is not great, and using public transport is physically difficult, very tiring and often uncomfortable for Natasha. As soon as she turned 16, she wanted to start learning to drive.
We looked on the internet and found Keiran through the Disability Drivers website. We met with Keiran at our house prior to taking up lessons, and he immediately showed an understanding of Natasha’s needs. Keiran listened to Natasha’s concerns and took the time to learn about her adaptions. Natasha needed to be taught in our adapted vehicle, as she has a radial accelerator, which is an uncommon adaption. We got a dual control instructor brake fitted by Andy’s Kars, to allow Keiran to instruct Natasha safely.
Keiran not only worked with Natasha, but also me (who was a very anxious parent). His patience and positive determination to make Natasha a confident driver, and his ability to adapt her lessons depending on how she felt on the day was incredible. Natasha’s condition causes her to suffer badly from fatigue, and Keiran adapted her lessons accordingly. He was so versatile and showed a genuine understanding of how tired Natasha was on some days. On numerous occasions, he had to change the planned lesson before or during the lesson. This understanding gave Natasha the confidence to be honest about how she was feeling and to give 100% during the lesson.
Since passing, Natasha's confidence has continued to grow. She is regularly driving into the centre of Cambridge, driving to college, as well as driving to and parking in the Multi-Story car park at the Grafton Centre and Grand Arcade. I am so pleased that Natasha has so much confidence. Keiran worked with Natasha to pass her test, but more importantly to drive safely and confidently once passed.
I met Natasha and her mum just before Natasha’s 16th Birthday, we went over Natasha’s needs, and what I would need to consider in order to support and teach her. We talked about her car and its adaptions. Natasha uses a rare and unusual hand control system that I had not seen before, a radial accelerator with push brake. The control is mounted underneath the steering wheel. The accelerator is operated by holding the lever with the right hand and pushing the lever down (towards the floor). At any position, the lever can be pushed away to apply the brakes. The lever is designed to be very light, which allows someone like Natasha, who has limited strength in her forearms and limited wrist mobility to be able to operate it. The main downside of the adaption is that because it is so light, it has very little "feel". This meant that knowing how much you are moving the control, and how the car is going to react took Natasha a while to understand. As she fatigued, her fine motor control, and therefore her control of the car’s acceleration decreased and braking could become harsh.
Natasha had to learn in stages. Firstly, I worked on getting Natasha to control the car off road. Then, on Natasha’s 16th Birthday* we started lessons on the road, where I began to work on Natasha's control in the more confined surroundings of the road network. Once she had good control, we started working on Natasha’s understanding of the road, getting her to drive the car safely and make independent decisions as I would with any learner. Finally, I worked on getting Natasha to be able to drive for longer periods of time without making a mistake and driving in tight and difficult areas to test standard.
When I started teaching Natasha, she was only able to drive for about 45 minutes, due to the physical exertion and the fatigue both physically and mentally. As we progressed and her body strengthened, she was able to drive for longer and fatigued at a slower rate. Certain situations such as parking manoeuvres and driving in start stop traffic required Natasha to use movements that put more stress on her wrists and forearms, causing a higher level of physical fatigue. I had to plan lessons very carefully, taking her tiredness into account, but I also had to get her to understand how to drive safely when she was tired, as this was going to be a situation she would have to deal with once she passed.
Natasha passed her test on her second attempt in Cambridge. I sat in on both of her tests. Natasha's first test was difficult. She was clearly nervous and struggled, resulting in a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes. Natasha's second test was a lovely controlled drive, rustling in a much-deserved pass.
Natasha had to work incredibly hard to learn to drive, and even harder to pass the test. She had many ups and downs during our time working together but never gave up. Natasha’s physical limitations meant she had to work really hard to find techniques that worked and allowed her to drive. At times we would fix one thing, only to find that in fixing that issue, her limited movement caused at least one new issue to arise. I am sure at times it felt like one step forward and three steps back for Natasha.
An example of one of the challenges Natasha faced was in using her steering control. We found Natasha was unable to use the direction indicators due to her weak grip and lack of wrist dexterity, so she needed to change the type of steering adaption. The new adaption allowed her to indicate, but we had to change the way she held the adaption. This caused greater fatigue and less steering accuracy. Once Natasha regained full control of her steering again, we found she could not do a left mirror check on roundabouts. This was due to the position of her elbow and shoulder, which did not allow her to turn her head to see the mirror. Again, she had to adapt how she steered, and once again this caused greater fatigue and less steering accuracy. Natasha never let these issues get her down, she saw each issue as a challenge she had to overcome. Every issue we encountered with her physical movement seemed to make her more determined to overcome her physical limitation, and to succeed.
I was never in any doubt that Natasha would pass her test. Although she had major physical hurdles to overcome, she just worked at each issue, and never gave me the impression that this latest issue might have been the one she couldn’t overcome. Natasha radiates positivity and has the most amazing attitude, which she brought into the car and her driving. It took Natasha just over a year to be test ready, and just over a year and three months to pass.
* 16-year olds that meet certain DVSA conditions are allowed to drive before their 17th Birthday.