How occupational therapy can help disabled drivers to achieve independent mobility

Occupational therapy assists persons with disabilities to obtain the right vehicle adaptations to meet their needs. We talked to therapist Ingrid Bolin, who has great experience in the field of independent mobility, to obtain her insights and advice.

Driving can be an important part of achieving independence, allowing individuals access to work, school, healthcare appointments and social activities. However, for people with reduced mobility, there may be certain requirements that make driving impossible without appropriate adaptations of the vehicle. This is where occupational therapy comes in and plays a crucial role.


Benefits of vehicle adaptations

Occupational therapists evaluate their clients' physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities to determine what adaptations will enable them to drive safely and comfortably. Their work focuses on helping individuals with disabilities or injuries perform everyday activities to the best of their preconditions. With the right adaptations, drivers with disabilities can carry out daily tasks on their own, giving them more freedom and control over their lives.

 Vehicle adaptations can range from basic adjustments such as seat cushions and steering wheel knobs to more advanced modifications like hand controls, wheelchair lifts, and swivel seats. Occupational therapists collaborate with mobility dealers, vehicle manufacturers and converters, and other professionals to ensure the adaptations are installed correctly and meet safety standards. They help to ensure that adaptations do not compromise their client’s health and safety, or the safety of others on the road.


Expert insights on occupational therapy and vehicle adaptations

We met with occupational therapist Ingrid Bolin, who has been working in the field since 1985. She has a strong background in rehabilitation and spinal cord injuries. Since 2004, she has been leading the Mobility Centre in Gothenburg, and up until 2020 she has focused on vehicle adaptation services. Ingrid explains:

"Discovering the ideal car and identifying the necessary adaptations is of great importance. It’s about mapping out and comprehending the specific needs of the individual."


Enhancing mobility and independent living

Individuals who have received car subsidies from the Swedish social insurance agency approach the Mobility Centre for assistance. The centre’s role is to assess suitable vehicle options and identify the necessary adaptations based on the different requirements. They consider factors such as the person's role as a passenger or driver, their mobility techniques and abilities, and their varying diagnoses. Ingrid points out:

 "Our main emphasis is on accurately evaluating the needs of individuals and ensuring that adaptation companies establish and maintain strong communication and contact with car owners."

She emphasizes the importance of effective communication and collaboration between the adaptation companies and vehicle users. According to her experience, the Mobility Centre acts as an important filter in this process. "We function as a catalyst. As we meet the person beforehand and conduct assessments, my colleagues and I can identify diagnoses and make predictions based on the user’s requirements", Ingrid says.


Facilitating medical assessments for driving licenses

Amongst many things, the Mobility Centre also works with driving license medical assessments and related examinations. People who need to acquire or renew their driving license may seek their assistance. The therapists there examine fundamental abilities based on individual circumstances to determine driving capabilities. They also guide individuals in finding the appropriate driving schools and adaptation companies.

Due to her working experience and expertise, Ingrid Bohlin understands the challenges that come with being a disabled driver or passenger. With abilities that can fluctuate daily, it's important to have the right adaptations in place to ensure safe and comfortable driving.

"Abilities can vary from day to day, it can be very different. Perhaps additional adaptations may be needed as individual insurance. If someone comes early and is newly injured, they may need more but also less support with adaptation products in the future."


Working together to reach individual mobility

Regardless of the situation, occupational therapy and vehicle adaptation can make a significant difference for disabled drivers and passengers.

"Occupational therapy is always a collaborative process," adds Ingrid. "We work closely with our clients to understand their unique needs and goals. For drivers with reduced mobility, the goal is often to achieve independent mobility. Vehicle accessibility solutions can be life-changing in this process."