By Dawn Adams, Vision Consultant, Region 8 Education Service Center, Mt. Pleasant, TX
Abstract: The author shares her strategies and suggestions as a driver with low vision.
Keywords: Family Wisdom, low vision, driving, training, expanded core curriculum
In my roles as a VI professional and as a low vision driver, I am often asked by parents and other VI professionals about driving. Here are my answers to the questions I am frequently asked.
How does a person find out if he or she will be able to drive?
The process should begin with a low vision evaluation. The student will be evaluated to see if the residual vision is sufficient for driving and for use of Bioptic lenses. If the student is a candidate for driving, as determined by the low vision evaluation, then the doctor will complete a form that the student can take to the driver’s license office. This form will exempt the student from the vision test that is typically done as part of routine licensing. Once the Bioptic device is purchased and arrives at the doctor’s office, the student will need to schedule an appointment to have the glasses adjusted. Once the glasses are obtained, the student can take the road test at the driver’s license office. Upon passing the road test, the student will be issued the appropriate driver’s license for his or her age group with restriction “P”, to wear “mounted telescopic lenses.” Other restrictions may also be given depending on the eye condition and other factors.
What is the VI teacher’s and O&M Specialists’ role in this area?
The VI team should consider if there has been appropriate instruction in the use of distance devices, and provide services to ensure the student has gained these skills. Once the necessary direct instruction has been provided, the VI professionals should know whether the student regularly uses hand-held telescopes or other prescribed low vision devices without the need for prompting by others. The TVI and COMS should always be “in the loop” when it comes to low vision evaluations. When the topic of driving arises, and it will if the student thinks he or she is a candidate, the TVI and/or COMS should communicate with the doctor about the student’s use, or lack of use, of the prescribed devices. My personal opinion is that a student must regularly and efficiently use a telescope on his or her own to be a successful driver with low vision.
My own experience in school was that I always used my low vision devices. One of these was a pair of glasses with a very small mounted telescope. I could use it for near or distance. Using a telescope became as easy as walking or breathing to me. Because of that, I believe the transition from sitting at a stationary desk in the classroom to controlling vehicle was much smoother than it would have been if I had not become accustomed to using such devices. It’s not just about being able to use a telescope. It’s not just about being able to physically drive the car. It’s about the ability to combine and coordinate both of these sets of skills to be able to drive.
O&M instruction in residential and business travel helps students gain an understanding of intersections, traffic flow, traffic rules, and many more concepts and skills that are directly related to driving. Learning about how to formulate an alternate route also has a direct connection for the student when it comes to driving. Sometimes he or she will need to plan different routes for different times of day because of the location of the sun. Instruction in use of public transportation is also vital for students who may be candidates for driving. There are times when it is not safe (or convenient) to drive, and some sort of public transit is a good alternative. There are places that I do not feel as comfortable driving as I do in others. When I must travel to these locations, I utilize the bus. Even students who will live and drive in rural areas need to develop these skills, so that when they go to urban areas they will have options in places they do not feel comfortable driving. Also, having students use their devices to locate numbers on businesses and houses, rooms in the school, etc. provides good practice that will help them in driving. Both TVIs and COMS can provide instruction in use of the distance devices.
What about accidents? Being pulled over?
In the event of a car accident involving a driver who has low vision, everything is the same as if both parties had “normal” vision. The officer is going to ask to see the driver’s license of both drivers. If the person with low vision was wearing his or her device when the accident occurred, and was not found to be at fault or in violation of any other laws (e.g. seatbelt, speed, etc.), then no ticket is issued and nothing is said about the person’s vision being a factor in the accident. Let’s just say that if the device was not being worn, things would be much worse for the individual.
What about Driver’s Education?
It is good for everyone to have Driver’s Education. However, it is more difficult for a student with a visual impairment to be successful in typical driver’s education course. This is partly because the student is having to learn to coordinate the use of the device and learning to control the vehicle at the same time. Sighted students are only having to learn to control the vehicle and the rules of the road. There are driving instructors for persons with visual impairments and other disabilities. These tend to be quite expensive, costing more than the typical tuition for driver’s education.
Can a person with low vision be a “good” driver?
Yes. As with other things, the unique characteristics of the individual will have a huge impact on driving ability. If an individual is well coordinated physically, then this will be evident in driving. If a person is easily distracted, this could also be true with driving. Confidence is also a big factor. When I began driving I was not very confident, but was over-cautious. Now as a much more experienced driver, I remain cautious, but I am more relaxed and confident.
Drivers with low vision must remain focused on the task of driving, not pay attention to things that are not pertinent at the time (shouldn’t everyone!) Students need to understand that driving is not something that is for everyone. I count it a privilege to drive—even though at times I may ask others to drive for me, take a ride when it is offered, or use public transportation.