Driver Education and OT
When I was in occupational therapy school in the early 1970s, hospitals and nursing homes were the main arenas where OTs worked. Training to transfer in and out of a car for homebound hospital patients who were paraplegic was the extent to which I helped patients with driving. Sometimes we used a sliding board. In the past four decades, OT practitioners have branched out into places where their expertise can really be utilized. Driver rehabilitation is one of those areas.
Since independence at activities of daily life, eating, bathing, dressing and grooming, (ADL), mobility, and community integration following an injury or illness are the goals of most occupational therapy services for adults, driver rehabilitation and re-education is a natural progression from the basic ADL skills.
Occupational therapists are the obvious professionals to perform screening, evaluations and assessments, and devise techniques, and help select appropriate adaptations to make driving safely a reasonable option. Assessing abilities in visual perceptual functioning, motor skills, judgment and decision-making pertaining to safety issues and reaction time are tasks that OTs have involved with for many years.
Driving for older adults is a special concern and growing as more people are living well beyond their eighties. An eighty-five year old woman I know who has coronary obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is on oxygen all the time, was due to take her on-the-road driving test to keep her driver's license current. Though her driving record had been flawless, she was nervous about taking the test.
Passing the test was a real morale booster for her; but fortunately she and her family with the assistance of an occupational therapist decided that driving was not practical for her. Certainly she could operate a vehicle without difficult, but hauling around an oxygen tank, especially a larger one for longer outings away from home, was virtually impossible for her. Once she arrived at her destination, how could she possibly get in and out of the car with her oxygen in tow? Her family ultimately sold her car, but she proudly carries her driver's license, active for four more years, in her purse, as a badge of honor.
Though choosing a specialty in occupational therapy was not an option for me when I earned my Bachelor's Degree in 1974, OTs can now choose from four board certifications including pediatrics and gerontology, and five specialty certifications including school systems and low vision and also driving and community mobility.
The website of the American Occupational Therapy Association (www.aota.org) gives the very detailed requirements for OTs and also occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) to earn this credential. There are an increasing number of publications and professional continuing education opportunities both by attending workshops and seminars, and online learning, to be able to legitimately work with patients and clients on driving skills as an extension of their occupational therapy program.
If I was not so near to the end of my career as an OT, I'd likely pursue my credential to work with patients on driver rehabilitation.