Maintaining as much independence as possible has been hugely important to me in my journey with MS. After a relapse in 2012 I found I could no longer drive a manual car and had to look into other options to keep myself motoring. The idea of car adaptations and new ways of driving was intimidating for me as I just didn’t know where to begin. I eventually found a solution that worked for me and here we are eight years later. Due to symptom and disease progression I am again looking at adaptations that will suit my changing needs. One thing I have learnt is to keep looking - there are lots of options out there, you just have to find the one that will work for you if and when you need it.
So how did I navigate this tricky situation? Firstly I would say that you are not on your own here. There are organisations that can help with advice and information. I started with the MS Society who recommended the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA). I visited the IWA Clontarf centre for an assessment to ensure I was cognitively safe to drive and to see what kind of adaptations would be appropriate for my particular needs. I had driving lessons to try out the left foot accelerator adaptation and also the hand controls for driving. With their support I decided the left foot accelerator was most appropriate for me at the time and have been using that successfully since. A recent relapse has affected my left leg so I have made the decision to progress to hand controls. The IWA website is a good source for information about adaptations.
Another avenue I would recommend for help and advice is your Occupational Therapist. If you do not have access to an OT then discuss a referral through your hospital care team. I had a visit from the community OT to assess my difficulties. There are lots of tools and techniques they may be able to suggest making life a little better for you. For example my OT suggested a swivel cushion (a small rotating cushion that sits on the car seat) to make getting in and out of the car easier. Not all adaptations involve large mechanical changes to your car. Having said that a swivel seat, whereby the car seat swivels to allow easier entry/exit to the car for those with mobility issues can also be an adaptation option.
Once I had decided on the adaptation I needed I contacted Motability Ireland to discuss my needs and the costs that would be involved. I found the staff there extremely helpful and understanding and they have been providing my adaptations since. They are onboard to carry out my hand controls conversion next year. Parfit also provides similar services and both companies’ websites have lots of information on possible adaptations to cars for both passengers and drivers. Links are provided below. Both companies have showrooms where you can view and try out various adaptations and will work with you to find the most appropriate solution for your needs.
Adapting your car is a means to an end. It is a tool to get you from A to B and to keep you mobile. It can be psychologically tough to admit you need help and adaptations so don’t rush into decisions. Get all the information and advice you can and make an informed decision in your own time. Above all remember that there are lots of options out there.