The driver assessment rehabilitation program (DARP) at St. Joseph’s Parkwood lnstitute is helping people get back behind the wheel who have lost their driver’s license because of changes in their health from trauma, illness or natural aging.
People like Mike Munro, 39, who needs to drive to tend his family’s 600 acre dairy farm and raise his family. In 2009 Mike was demolishing an old farmhouse when a section of the chimney hurtled towards him. Rushing to get clear of the falling debris, he tripped over a bush and hit his back. Instantly he knew something was very wrong. He was paralyzed from the waist down.
Or like Dale Smith who sustained a severe brain injury when a speeding car driven by a drunk driver rear-ended his vehicle in 2008. Dale endured months in hospital, multiple brain surgeries, extensive rehabilitation and the loss of his driver’s license.
Mike and Dale regained their independence by learning to drive modified vehicles. Through the DARP program Mike learned to drive with hand controls, and Dale drives with a left foot gas pedal and a spinner knob on the steering wheel. “I had some rough goes, but the DARP team kept working with me until I mastered the skills to get my license back,” says Dale.
DARP is not just for people who have had a traumatic injury. Clients also include those with physical disabilities who require special equipment to enable safe and accessible driving, and those who need special instruction or vehicle adaptations to learn to drive. As well, DARP is one of only a handful of services in Ontario authorized to conduct driving assessments for people who do not meet driving peripheral vision requirements.
Recently Mike drove his family to Florida and back and regularly drives all over Ontario fishing and curling and taking his two boys to hockey and baseball games. Dale who now volunteers and speaks to teenagers taking driver’s education classes about the toll unsafe driving practices take on lives, asks,” If we didn’t have a program like DARP in the London area, what would people like me do?”
(above: Occupational therapist Monique MacDonald looks on as Dale Smith prepares to take his wife Alice for a drive in his modified vehicle)